Even before the month of April is out, 2010 has already proven to be a momentous year for Kirill Gerstein. In January, the Russian-born pianist became the sixth recipient of the coveted Gilmore Artist Award – “music’s answer to the MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grants,” according to the New York Times – made every four years to a pianist of exceptional ability and profound musicianship, deemed capable of sustaining a prominent international career. Now Gerstein, one of today’s most intriguing young musicians, has followed this coup with a second major triumph, being named the winner of a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant. Worth $25,000 each, the grants have been awarded for excellence since 1976, providing recognition to outstanding instrumentalists; former recipients include Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz, Jeffrey Kahane, Edgar Meyer, Gil Shaham, and Richard Stoltzman. As the Boston Globe affirms, Gerstein is “on the fast track to a major career, and he deserves to be.”
Giving grounds for his foundation of the Avery Fisher Artist Program, the late philanthropist Avery Fisher explained, “Musicians of outstanding ability are such an important part of our culture. But they are like flowers that must bloom at a particular time. They have to be helped at the right moments.” Evidently the moment is right for Gerstein, whose recent account of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with Dutoit and the Chicago Symphony prompted veteran Chicago Tribune critic John von Rhein to write:
“One could tell just from the finely graded series of chords with which the work begins why the young Russian virtuoso won the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award for 2010. Gerstein handled them like a master, and they launched a reading of rhapsodic intensity and big-hearted Russian lyricism. He wowed the audience not by indulging in cheap tricks or self-regarding sensationalism but by treating this music seriously, like the splendid Romantic masterpiece it is.”
Gerstein’s other recent North American highlights have included debuts with the Atlanta Symphony and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; re-engagements with the Detroit, Houston, and Oregon Symphonies; and a tour with cellist Steven Isserlis that included performances in San Francisco and at the Kennedy Center. Upcoming engagements include Gerstein’s Gilmore Artist appearances at the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in May, when he will perform Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and a recital program that will include a world premiere of Oliver Knussen's Ophelia's Last Dance for solo piano. The pianist also looks forward to making his Boston Symphony debut at Tanglewood in July.