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Maxim Kinasov takes a bow after his performance in the finals.

Maxim Kinasov takes a bow after his performance in the finals (photo: John Cole).

Second-placed Maxim Kinasov talks of his life in music

Maxim Kinasov, aged 25, from Russia, is to be congratulated for winning second prize in the Hastings International Piano Cconcerto Competition, while the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra also awarded him the well-deserved orchestra’s prize for his rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat Minor, Op 23, in the final. HOT’s Chandra Masoliver had the good fortune to be his host, and over suppers and a glass or two of wine, talked with him about his life in music.

CM: Maxim, please tell me about your musical career and the music you prefer to play.

BMK: I have been playing the piano for twenty years. All my family played, on different instruments, and they all went to music school. My mum and sister play the piano and my dad played the contrabass. So I have a musical tradition from the very beginning. Of course I prefer to play different styles of classical music, from Bach to Shostakovich, but I’m really interested in Russian not well-known tonality music.

For example we have great composers such as Taneyev, Bortkiewicz, Zaderatsky, Slonimsky, Kabalevsky, and many others almost unknown in Europe. Taneyev is an amazing composer of the late nineteenth – early twentieth century and he wrote many great works for orchestra, choir, piano and chamber ensembles. His famous Piano Quintet Op. 30 sounds like a full symphony orchestra!

You chose Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 in stage 1 and for your final’s complete concerto with the RPO, and Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 in the semi-finals – two Russian composers. In what way does being Russian give you special insight into their work?

As a pianist from Russia I really understand Russian music and its style. I feel very clear about what our composers are saying in their music. I think the most important thing in Russian music is a melody. Also Russian composers have a special relationship with folk music. For example, in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 there are a lot of folk themes: in the second movement there are images of nature which remind me of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. The main theme in the third movement is from a Ukrainian folk song called Vesnianka, and Tchaikovsky combined this melody with a rhythm from Gopak.

As you know, Prokofiev’s Sonata No 7 was written during World War Two, and there is a lot of drama and real feelings about this hard time for our country, which Prokofiev conveyed with incredible accuracy. For me, the first movement is about the beginning of war, the onset of Hitler’s army in Russia, and the suffering of the people because of it. The second movement has something nostalgic, maybe Russian people’s memories of how it was good before the war, and what devastation it brought to us.

HIPCC Finals Night 2 March 2019

Photo: John Cole.

I think the third movement is about the Soviet’s army counter-offensive in Germany and finally, Russian victory over Hitler’s army! Of course, Prokofiev in 1942 didn’t know how the war would end, but he believed in our victory, like many other Soviet people, and I think the victory also became possible through this kind of music by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Kabalevsky and other Soviet composers.

In stage 2 you chose Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1, and in the semi-finals you also chose Beethoven’s Sonata No 30 and Brahm’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini – could you tell me your ideas about these composers?

Well, I think the most basic thing in romantic music (it doesn’t matter if it’s Brahms or Liszt or Chopin) is what feelings fill you when you play this work. Romantic music, and music of all other periods, often has a close relationship with literature and famous literary stories. Often, when I begin to learn a new work, I listen to several recordings and, for example, in the case of Liszt’s first concerto, I immediately realised that this music reminds me of Goethe’s Faust, and all that happened to the heroes of the famous tragedy. In general, I can say that literature quite often helps me better understand what I want to say in romantic repertoire.

The situation with Beethoven is a bit more complicated because it is not enough to feel this music, you need to follow the composer’s instructions in the scores as well, and this is the main problem, because often the opinion of the performer and the composer’s instructions can be completely different. In Beethoven this is a very frequent case: despite the fact that this is a composer of the classical period, he wanted and liked to be unpredictable in his works.

After a while playing his music, you begin to understand why the composer wanted such a sound effect (for example his famous ‘subito p’) – precisely because you do not expect it here. It’s really hard for pianists to understand Beethoven, but I think I did my best during the Semi-Finals.

When Angie Phillip, local musician in the Blue Rumour band, heard you play she said, “Maxim draws you in from the very first note. He somehow uses the space between the notes to create a tension that holds you spellbound in some intimate connection, wrapped in the music, which I wanted never to stop.” How would you describe that quality in yourself?

I believe that as a musician I am very lucky. I have been practicing piano since I was five years old, and because I have been living in Russia most of my life, I had a very large preparatory base at the music school – the Academic Music College of Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, and finally during my Master’s, at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, where I’m studying with Professor Ashley Wass, deputy head of School of Keyboard Studies.

Of course, for good performance you need to have a professional level of education, and that is very important. But what I think gives me that quality is not in education, it is more about your talent and your soul in music, your imagination, how you feel the music you play, and what you can say to your audience.

Maxim with Saraswati, Hindu goddess of music (photo: Chandra Masoliver).

Maxim with Saraswati, Hindu goddess of music (photo: Chandra Masoliver).

For me, the most important thing in piano playing is ‘charm’. It is something chemical, that makes the audience listen to you over and over again, and come to your recitals. This quality of performance is something I rarely hear these days in the halls. Of course many pianists have good skills, education, musicality and other things, but very often I hear playing without charm. So I try to have charm in my performance as often as I can.

What are your thoughts about piano competitions, and the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition in particular?

I think competitions are very important in terms of the musician’s development and the expansion of their repertoire. On the other hand, participation in competitions is a very difficult, nervous, process, often full of disappointments. I have participated and won in many international competitions, and I can say with full responsibility, that unfortunately recently we have so many piano competitions that they no longer give musicians such an explosive effect as they did some twenty or thirty years ago.

Every week in the world there are about five winners of international competitions of different levels, and often little competitions appear only to soon disappear every year. Some are organised in order only to make money from the entrance fees, and not to support young musicians and give them the opportunity to perform.

In addition I really do not like the situation associated with the fact that offers for recitals at such competitions of the average level are only given to the first prize winner. I think this is fundamentally wrong, and if we pianists enter so many competitions in our time, these competitions should offer concerts, not only money, for second and third prizes.

Given the markedly increased level of piano performance in recent years (including because of the competitions), the winners of second and third prizes are often ready to be concert soloists, but for some reason (not always honest) they did not have enough points to get the coveted first prize.

Maxim on the Stade with girlfriend Maria Matveeva, also a pianist.

Maxim on the Stade with girlfriend Maria Matveeva, also a pianist (photo: Chandra Masoliver).

I think the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition is different from those other ones. The structure of this competition is very unusual and therefore in itself attractive to me personally. Here you have the opportunity from the first and second rounds to perform two different concertos with accompanists of a good level, and only then play solo in the semi-final.

I think this is a great experience, especially for young contestants, to learn how to communicate with the accompanist after one or two rehearsals. And finally, of course, it’s amazing for the six finalists to have the opportunity to play with the RPO, one of the most important professional orchestras in England. I understand that I will have engagements with the RPO in future.


Maxim Kinasov won the Royal Northern College of Music Gold Medal in June 2018, and will be playing in the Gold Medal Winners Concert at the Wigmore Hall in London on 28 March at 19.30. 




Posted 21:26 Wednesday, Mar 6, 2019 In: Music & Sound


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  1. Angie Phillip

    There’s so much in your interview – just marvellous, Chandra – can’t thank you enough for writing this. I think Maxim has a very special quality that goes far beyond technical prowess. I am grateful to have been able to listen to him.

    There are so many points that I would like to follow up. I am fascinated by Maxim’s ideas about the links between literature and music, and I’m sure that it’s not confined to Russian literature alone. One of my interests is the effect rhythm has on novels and what it adds to the meaning without our being consciously aware of it. This is the other end of just one of the ideas raised in your fascinating interview that it would be interesting to explore further. Thank you again to both Chandra and Maxim.

    Comment by Angie Phillip — Saturday, Mar 9, 2019 @ 16:51

  2. Edward

    Live music brings music to life when played with such skills and passion built on deep engagement with the music and culture of the composers. This rises above mere technical proficiency to draw the audience into the performance. How lucky we are in Hastings to have a competition that brings us such talent as Maxim’s.

    Comment by Edward — Thursday, Mar 7, 2019 @ 20:26

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