Piano ‘bigwig’ lands in Sackville

Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein provides music students with educational weekend

Visiting pianist Kirill Gerstein was one of the youngest musicians to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston at age 14. Madeleine Hansen/Argosy

Last weekend, the Mount Allison department of music welcomed its second annual Bragg artist-in-residence. Versatile and expressive pianist Kirill Gerstein travelled from his home base of Berlin to participate in an interactive teaching weekend with the department of music. Gerstein is one of the top pianists in the field, which makes his presence on our little campus all the more exciting. Students were buzzing in anticipation of his arrival.

Originally from the former Soviet Union, Gerstein has studied piano all over the world. At age 14, he was the youngest musician to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. From there he studied in New York City, Madrid and Budapest. His career now has him travelling the world for performance and education.

Last week, as part of his Bragg Artist Residency, Gerstein took part in a piano masterclass, a Q&A session, a recital, a composition workshop and a workshop on the intersecting genres of classical music and jazz. This past weekend was chock-full of exciting and educational opportunities for students from all disciplines.

Three Mt. A piano students took part in a piano masterclass where Gerstein personally coached them on a selection of their repertoire for the semester.

“The masterclass was a life-changing experience,” said Adam Peck, a third-year piano student. “I essentially received an hour and a half of coaching with one of the world’s top pianists. He’s a brilliant performer and teacher.” Peck even took Gerstein’s teachings and applied them to the way he approaches his other music.

The real highlight of the weekend was watching Gerstein perform a moving and challenging program of piano works. His vibrant performance brought the audience to their feet in an eruption of applause.

“As a pianist, I thoroughly enjoyed Kirill Gerstein’s piano recital,” said Brooklyn Duffie, a fourth-year pianist. “I was thrilled by the vibrant repertoire selections, including a personal favourite of mine, the Liszt B minor sonata. My favourite aspect of the concert was the way that Gerstein chose to use silence as a way to illuminate special musical moments.” Although Gerstein has a tall and broad stature and an intimidating body language, a more sensitive side of him is seen when he is performing.

Although Gerstein’s performance schedule keeps his calendar full with travel and concerts, he emphasizes the importance of teaching and music education by making room for regular lessons with his students. Gerstein feels that as a musician, teaching goes hand in hand with the other aspects of his work.

“If you look at people like Liszt and Chopin and Bach, you’ll realize that they all taught and performed and composed,” said Gerstein.

Gerstein’s attention to the art of teaching is admirable. The fact that such a big name is here teaching in our small town is an exceptional learning opportunity. It’s not every day that we get to learn from one of the best musicians in the world.

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