When Eastman School of Music Professor of Piano Alexander Kobrin landed in Fort Worth, Texas for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2005, it was his first time in the United States. Born and trained in Moscow, Kobrin remembers his father was watching a documentary on Texas ranches and cowboys back in Russia at the time of the competition and asked him, “Are you sure there’s a Van Cliburn competition in that place?”
Not only did Kobrin win the Van Cliburn competition that year, but it was also the event that turned the United States into his new career base and home. “It literally changed not only my professional but personal life,” he says.
The Van Cliburn competition launched the rising artist into a major performing career and secured him teaching positions at the Columbus State University and then at New York University. In 2017, he was hired to teach at Eastman, the same place where the renowned Russian violinist Mikhail Kopelman taught, whose concerts Kobrin attended as a teenager in Moscow.
“If anyone back then told me I would be on the same faculty as him in America, I’d say ‘what, that can’t be.’ It’s surreal.”
Kobrin will give Rochester audiences a rare and intense portrait of his playing when he tackles the full 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven over this academic year in Faculty Artist Series recitals. He begins his Beethoven Sonata tour on September 1 at 7:30 p.m. in Hatch Recital Hall, which continues on the first of every month, except for January, throughout the academic year. See the Faculty Artist Series schedule at the Eastman Theatre Box Office for details and tickets.
The project will not only allow audiences to hear one of Eastman’s prominent faculty artists take on a monumental challenge—but because Kobrin performs the sonatas chronologically, it will also take listeners on a journey of Beethoven’s development as a composer.
“His sonatas were kind of his laboratory for other genres,” says Kobrin. “What he does with the form, pianism, and the sound in his sonatas––it starts with learning and ends up being a philosophy. It’s really a life journey, in which we see how the person struggles through life.”
There are few composers played by pianists more than Beethoven, which means there is no lack of interpretations of the Beethoven sonatas out in the world. But Kobrin says he’s not trying to differentiate himself.
“I just bring my own senses toward this composer,” he says. “Sometimes critics mention that I am presenting Beethoven as a more lyrical composer. I don’t think Beethoven is lacking in lyricism, it’s just that we got so used to this ‘appassionata,’ ‘sturm and drang’ image of this composer, who has so much warmth, kindness, sweetness, and humor.”
Kobrin is well-prepared for the concerts: Over the last few years, he has been busy recording the full Beethoven sonatas for the Centaur label. The first album will be out this fall. They were recorded, however, in a less linear fashion than his recital series—he did not record them chronologically.
The recordings were made at the Seventh Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. Kobrin chose the venue because it had a beautiful Kawai piano. Kobrin tried several other pianos out but kept coming back to the Kawai. “That’s the sound I want, that’s the sound I’m looking for,” says Kobrin.
When the piano makers at Sigeru Kawai heard about this, they approached Kobrin about becoming an official Sigeru Kawai artist. It means that they provide pianos for Kobrin’s major performances—including for his Beethoven recitals at Eastman. A Sigeru Kawai piano has been delivered to Hatch Recital Hall from Japan just for Kobrin’s recitals.
Kobrin says that each day with the Beethoven sonatas reveals something new, and that each performance will also be different. “I’m just prone to new ideas, new ways, new tries here and there,” he says. The Beethoven sonatas allow for that kind of never-ending investigation.
“Beethoven is a composer who has a very special place in my work, my heart, my mind,” he says. “It gives me a lot of spiritual strength to do the full sonatas. I would advise every pianist to try to attempt that.”
To purchase tickets to any of Kobrin’s upcoming recitals, visit EastmanTheatre.org. Tickets for Eastman’s Faculty Artist Series are $10 for the general public and free to University of Rochester ID holders. General Admission tickets will be available for purchase at each concert.