“It’s practically impossible to be better musicians than Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. To feel more in the music than they did. On the other hand, Rachmaninoff once said of Vladimir Horowitz that he played some of his own music better than him. That is the greatest compliment a performer can receive,” says virtuoso Alexeev, who makes his San Francisco recital debut Saturday at the Marines’ Memorial Theater in a Chamber Music San Francisco presentation.
The program includes Schumann’s First Piano Sonata, a piece performed in 1840 by Franz Liszt, considered the greatest pianist of the time. After the concert, Schumann, also a critic, said the performance moved him “strangely,” and that Liszt’s reading differed in many places from his own.
Alexeev, winner of the Leeds International Competition in 1975, says he fell in love with Schumann’s sonata the first time he heard it.
“It is one of my favorite works of all, and it is as emotionally and dramatically intense as anything in the repertoire,” Alexeev says, describing the four-movement, half-hour work written and dedicated to Schumann’s future wife, Clara, in 1835.
Alexeev, 66, who was born in Moscow and began playing piano at age 5, has had contact with musical greats. He recalls his rigid training at the Moscow Conservatory, crossing paths with composer Dmitri Shostakovich and Lev Oborin, winner of the first International Chopin Piano Competition: “I saw them all. The whole atmosphere, those incredible personalities — it was just a very special time and place. Those artists made a tremendous impression on a young, aspiring musician,” he says.
Alexeev, who teaches at the Royal College of Music in London, says aspiring musicians today face challenges quite different from their predecessors: “When Beethoven wrote his music, there were no airplanes, telephones, computers or Internet. Music for him meant a very different thing — a different smell, even! These things have made life better for us, but music is quite apart, and I believe, should not be mixed with those modern elements.”
The musician, whose concert also includes works by Chopin and selections of Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert and Wagner, has appeared with the San Francisco Symphony and is pleased to be returning to The City.
“I’ve played with Michael Tilson Thomas and [the] orchestra in the past. San Francisco is such a beautiful city, one of the most picturesque in the whole world, and I’m very, very excited to be back,” he says.
IF YOU GO
Presented by Chamber Music San Francisco
Where: Marines’ Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Contact: (415) 391-4400, www.chambermusicsf.org
Note: Steinway Society presents Alexeev at 7 p.m. Sunday at Le Petit Trianon Theatre, 72 N. Fifth St., San Jose; call (408) 990-0872 or visit www.steinwaysociety.com.