Music is entertainment, but it can also be a powerful communicator of grand ideas and things we can’t, for whatever reason, put into words, says pianist Maxim Anikushin.
Music “can bring a message to people that otherwise would not be okay to say in words sometimes—this is what I feel. It has the power to communicate,” Anikushin said. “It can be a powerful force for the human mind.”
On day three of the NTD International Piano Competition, Anikushin played Beethoven’s Sonata No. 21, and Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante.
“Beethoven’s a genius, and he communicated grand ideas: fraternity, brotherhood, and triumph over tragedy,” Anikushin said.
The sonata Anikushin chose “is all about nature, the power of nature. The first movement has birds singing; it has the sunrise. The second movement is a contemplative movement all about the force of nature. The last movement is about an aurora, the different colors of the sky—basically the triumph of nature.”
Many of Beethoven’s work draws on nature, and many were composed during his walks amid nature even as he lost his ability to hear.
“He also unites nature with a human character; so there is a unification of storm and drama, peaceful conditions of the mind, and the stillness of the forest,” Anikushin said.
The polonaise tells a very different kind of story, but one that also ended on a note of brilliance.
“It’s a joyous dance. It is a bit of a military dance, and when I play, I imagine a ballerina, a prima ballerina, dancing this, and all of the supporting people, the men who are about to go to war are supporting her in this polonaise,” Anikushin said.
“And then there is triumph: There are moments of sadness, drama, but at the end there is triumph; victory over everything bad,” he said.
Back to Bach
The NTD International Piano Competition is unusual in its choice of repertoire, requiring Bach etudes from contestants in the preliminary round.
For Anikushin, “it was perfect.”
“I believe Bach is the greatest genius composer there is in the world. What he created, it feels like God speaks through him,” he added.
Anikushin, from Moscow, said he actually played much more Bach than Russian music when he studied in Russia. He later emigrated to the United States and studied at Juilliard before getting his doctorate in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music. He performs eight or nine times a year around New York City, and credits his teachers for instilling in him their wisdom.
“Anyone can practice, but you need to know how to practice,” he said.
Anikushin dazzled listeners with his artistry and technique, and impressed judges with his mastery of tone.
Bach is foundational to piano music, and Anikushin thought it was a clever choice to include it in the preliminaries.
“You have to display your ability to play many voices at one time, and you have to display virtuosity,” he said. “It’s a very correct decision; I’ve never played in a competition that required just that.”
Also unique was the commissioned piece, which Anikushin said was the longest commissioned work he’s played thus far. He’s no stranger to Chinese music, having performed another work by a Chinese composer in a previous competition.
“Asian music has a lot of coloristic possibilities that I haven’t experienced before,” Anikushin said. The work was commissioned from Shen Yun Performing Arts artistic director D.F., and arranged for piano by judge Susan Liu using classical techniques.
“I love it and I want to play it more,” Anikushin said.
Anikushin is currently working on trying to record and produce the complete works of Samuel Barber for keyboard.
A few years ago, Anikushin learned the Barber’s Piano Concerto for a competition, and became deeply interested in the composer.
“Once I started learning his music, there was something special about it. I felt I knew the composer very well,” he said.
He decided then he had to learn all of Barber’s music.
“I wish to produce [the complete music] for piano, organ, harpsichord, and carillon,” Anikushin said. “It hasn’t happened yet, but this is very special to me.”