WASHINGTON POST REPORTS ON THE AMERICAN DEBUT OF DIMITRIS SGOUROS

Carnegie Hall

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Slava's Prodigy

Lon Tuck
Washington Post  April 15, 1982; Page D1

Dimitris Sgouros, a 12-year-old Greek piano prodigy, will make a surprise American debut tonight at New York's Carnegie Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra.

NSO music director Mstislav Rostropovich dropped two pieces from the orchestra's Tchaikovsky festival to make room for Sgouros to play the lengthy and difficult Rachmaninoff Third Concerto. "Romeo and Juliet" and the Coronation March were omitted from tonight's program. "It will still be a Tchaikovsky festival but on this occasion there will have to be a Rachmaninoff interruption," Rostropovich explained. Rostropovich is the first to present Sgouros in America after hearing him play recently in Europe, where the prodigy made his professional debut less than a year ago on a cruise ship.

Rostropovich made the announcement in New York yesterday just before rehearsing the Rachmaninoff work with Sgouros at Carnegie Hall. The orchestra is appearing in New York this week in four concerts repeating performances from recent Tchaikovsky programs in Washington.

NSO executive director Henry Fogel said Sgouros will appear with the orchestra here for the first time during the June 24 and 26 concerts in the temporary facility planned at Wolf Trap, where he will play the Tchaikovsky B-flat concerto.

Fogel said that while the orchestra would have preferred a Washington debut for Sgouros, that was determined to be logistically impossible: It was too late to book him here at any date except during the Tchaikovsky festival, and pianist Andre Watts was already scheduled to play the Tchaikovsky concerto during that period. "We couldn't throw Andre out, and we couldn't do that to Rosand, either Aaron Rosand, who played the Tchaikovsky violin concerto , and there was no all-orchestral program in Washington where we could put the Rachmaninoff Third, which is the boy's other concerto now. And we couldn't wait for summer, because Slava Rostropovich wanted to do the boy's American debut, and the boy was scheduled to play in Detroit before June."

Fogel said Sgouros started playing when he was 7 and has studied only at the Athens Conservatory, from which he will graduate next year. He is then scheduled to enter London's Royal College of Music. Sgouros made his debut last summer on the cruise ship Azur, and was presented at the Menton Festival in August. Word of his playing was passed on from such important figures as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim and Claudio Abbado. Rostropovich asked to audition Sgouros in Europe after the National Symphony's recent European tour.

The pianist's father is a doctor in Piraeus.

 


Bravo Sgouros

Joseph McLellan
Washington Post  April 16, 1982; Page B1

NEW YORK, April 15, 1982 -- When he was not playing the piano tonight in Carnegie Hall, Dimitris Sgouros looked liked a shy, nervous 12-year-old boy. He clasped his hands together during intervals when the piano was silent--relatively rare intervals in Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto--and swayed his body gently from side to side looking very tiny on the piano stool with a giant Steinway in front of him and the National Symphony Orchestra behind him.

He kept a handkerchief tucked away inside the piano and took it out frequently to wipe perspiration from his face. It may be that the temperature in the hall had been raised by the heat of his spectacular virtuoso performance. When he took a bow, as he had to do repeatedly for nearly 15 minutes tonight, with interruptions for two encores, he seemed to shrink into himself, almost afraid of the intense reaction he had provoked in such a large crowd.

A near-capacity audience gave him one standing ovation after another, and its applause, which was already loud, rose to a roar when Mstislav Rostropovich engulfed his small piano soloist in an enormous bear hug. The reaction was well earned; Sgouros has a natural musical talent of still incalculable dimensions.

The printed program had promised the audience an all-Tchaikovsky evening, but two Tchaikovsky items were dropped the day before and his "Manfred" Symphony moved to the beginning, to make room for Sgouros and Rachmaninoff. It was the first time the pianist had played the concerto with an orchestra, but it sounded as if it might have been the hundredth.

The diffident child disappeared and a totally different person took over whenever Sgouros' hands came near the keyboard. He was self-assured, dominant, able to whip an entire orchestra into submission with the speed and strength and accuracy of his hands, the passion of his interpretation, and sometimes, though not always, the sheer musicianship at his command.

He is not yet a complete musician--he has still things to learn, particularly about pianissimo playing--but even in those aspects of the art that usually come in later years, subtlety in the dynamic gradations of a phrase and little but meaningful variations of tempo, he already shows occasional flashes of insight far beyond his years.

The Rachmaninoff Concerto does not tell a listener everything that needs to be known about a pianist, but it is a very thorough test of technique and facility in the romantic style of performance. I still wonder what he might be able to do with Mozart, but I heard enough tonight to say that a major talent made its American debut with the National Symphony in Carnegie Hall. If he does not burn himself out in his teens (as could easily happen if his career and further development of his talent are not carefully managed), he should be one of the dominant performers of the early 21st century.

Rostropovich brought one of the distinguished guests who flocked backstage after the concert over to meet Sgouros, who was standing in a corner shielded from the stream of admirers by a small table. "This is Alice Tully," Rostropovich told the young pianist. "She has done more to help young artists than anyone else in the world."

Also in the audience were Rohan Joseph, music director of the American Philharmonic, and violin virtuoso Erik Friedman, who gave concerts with Sgouros last summer during a musical cruise aboard the ocean liner Azur. During intermission, before the young Greek came on with the Concerto, Friedman warned a friend who was sitting in a box tier, "Don't sit too near the edge. You are about to be knocked out of your seat."

In Tchaikovsky's "Manfred" Symphony, which opened the program, the NSO achieved a quality of sound that I have never heard it make in the Kennedy Center. The bass strings and winds were extraordinarily rich, the brass incisive, the balances beautifully clear, and the smallest nuances delicately articulated.

Rostropovich applauds Dimitris Sgouros at his historic Carnegie Hall debut (photo courtesy of People Magazine)

 

Sgouros featured in Newsweek

 

 Sotiris Sgouros - "We never compel him to do anything, to practice or perform.  It all comes from him.  Playing in Carnegie Hall isn't too much for him.  After all, he's played in the Herodes Atticus theater at the Acropolis, which is twice the size and 2,000 years old.  Alexander the Great was 20 when he set out.  If someone had said, 'You're too young,' there would have been no Alexander the Great." 

 

 .... his favorite pianist is Horowitz.  What does he like about him?  Suddenly he is interested, his face screws up.  "I can't tell you. It's a very difficult question, but I feel it in my heart." 

 

 

stagebill  April 1982 program book - Carnegie Hall debut of Dimitris Sgouros


PIANIST'S RETURN, PART II

Joseph McLellan
Washington Post  April 23, 1982; Page C7

Young Dimitris Sgouros, who knocked them dead in Carnegie Hall last week when he made his American debut with the National Symphony Orchestra, is not exactly dropping out of sight. He will perform with the NSO here in late June, open the University of Maryland Piano Festival with a recital on July 18, and give a mind-boggling program a few days earlier at the Newport Music Festival.

The American chapter of the Sgouros saga began when the boy's mother, Marianthi Sgouros, wrote to Stewart Gordon, director of the University of Maryland International Piano Festival and Competition, asking whether Sgouros could be allowed to compete, although he is only 12 and the minimum age for competitors is 16. After listening to an audition tape, Gordon decided to refuse, not only because Sgouros was so far under age but because it would be unfair to the other competitors. But he wrote back offering instead to have Sgouros give the festival's opening recital, and he also recommended the young pianist to several friends, including Mstislav Rostropovich. Sgouros was flown to Amsterdam to meet Rostropovich while the NSO was there on tour, and arrangements for his NSO appearances were made immediately. Meanwhile, the general director of the Newport Music Festival, Mark P. Malkovich III, was spending days on a transcontinental phone line with a Greek interpreter, trying to book Sgouros for the festival, which has a distinguished list of American debuts to its credit, including Bella Davidovich and Tchaikovsky Competition winners Andre Gavrilov and Mikhail Platynov. The program, planned for July 15 in The Breakers (the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion) is enough to bring tears to the eyes and blisters to the hands of any pianist: a group of Scarlatti sonatas, Beethoven's "Appassionata," Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit" and Balakirev's "Islamey." Except for the Scarlatti (which should answer some still open questions about the young pianist's subtlety, legato, phrasing of quiet passages, etc.), any one of these pieces might normally be the climax of a program. "Then," recalls Malkovich with awe in his voice, "he asked me, 'Would you like the Mephisto Waltz as an encore?' "

 

From left to right:  John Pattrick, Vice President of Angel Records L.A.; Erick Friedman ; Jean-Philippe Collard ; Dimitris Sgouros ; Dr. Mark P. Malkovich, III, Director Newport Festival, Rhode Island ; Anthony Caronia, Angel Records New York

  July 1984     [special thanks to Mark Malkovich IV for this photograph, drawn from the personal collection of Dr Mark P. Malkovich III]


Alegría Beracasa interview on Dimitris Sgouros

Stephen M. Silverman
New York Post  April 24, 1982

Behind every great man, it is said, there's a woman. But behind every great child prodigy ... ?
In the case of 12-year-old Dimitris Sgouros - who last week astounded Carnegie Hall with his performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto in D Minor, No. 3 - the woman is Allegria Beracasa, head of the Beracasa Foundation.
"I'm not surprised by the reception to little Dimitris," said Mrs Beracasa, sounding like a proud parent. "When you hear him, you fall in love with him." Post critic Harriett Johnson referred to Sgouros as "our little fellow with the giant mind, old soul, and monumental talent."
In its 15 years of existence Mrs Beracasa's foundation, headquartered in Paris and Caracas, has presented 250 musical artists.
"We're like a flea market of music," she said, referring to herself and her artistic director Andre Borocz. "We find the gifted musicians of the world and try to offer them the right connections."
The discoveries, she said, are come upon in one of two ways. The first is through the recommendations of such "good friends" as Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, Rudolf Serkin, Wilhelm Kempff, Daniel Barenboim, Maurice Andre, Jean-Pierre Rampal, James Galway, and Mstislav Rostropovich.
"They send us their best pupils," she said, acknowledging that the world of music, at best, "is a very closed circle."
The second method is through sheer circumstance. Mrs Beracasa happened across an item in a Greek newspaper about young Sgouros and decided to seek him out. In due course Mrs B. was introducing him and his mother to Rostropovich in Monaco. The boy then played concerts in Europe and is today back home in Greece, "becoming," said Mrs Beracasa, "an even greater musician."

MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH, MRS. ALEGRIA DE BERACASA, PRESIDENT OF THE BERACASA FOUNDATION, CREDITED WITH DIMITRIS' DISCOVERY, AND DIMITRIS SGOUROS PHOTOGRAPHED BY ARKADY LVOV  (CAMERA—MINOLTA)

COURTESY OF ANDY WARHOL'S "INTERVIEW" MAGAZINE


Piano Prodigy Makes D.C. Debut

Lon Tuck
Washington Post  June 26, 1982; Page C1

The much-heralded 12-year-old Greek pianist Dimitris Sgouros made his Washington debut at Wolf Trap last night with his American champion, Mstislav Rostropovich, and the National Symphony. Sgouros played the Tchaikovsky First Concerto and made the same kind of brilliant impression as in his American debut with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall in April.

Sgouros has remarkable agility with his fingers, remarkable for any age. And there is no work that needs agility more than the Tchaikovsky, the most famous of all piano concertos. Those profusions of octaves in the first movement that cascade up and down the keyboard like heavy rapids were startlingly clean and even. And the last movement was taken as fast as this listener has ever heard. The orchestra, which played well all evening, was harder pressed by these speeds than the boy. Sgouros also has power. Those huge chords that open the concerto as the orchestra plays the main theme in full force behind the pianist sounded out powerfully. And all this was from a pianist who looks like the pre-adolescent child that he is.

Obviously, in a 12-year-old, the musical gift is not going to be as refined as the technical one. But he showed considerable interpretive flair. Many inner voices that are crucial to harmonic detail were brought out. There was delicacy when it was called for. And Sgouros grasped with assurance the general shape and direction of the concerto and its component parts.

The 6,000 people in the audience broke into a sustained ovation after the first movement and were pushed to greater heights at the end.

It is problematic what to make of a child who can handle the notes of a concerto more securely than many of our finest pianists. It serves no useful purpose to gush just at the marvel of it all, because when Sgouros reaches full maturity what he could do at this age will be beside the point.

Perhaps the best question to ask is what impression last night's performance would make from a pianist in his or her early twenties, which is about the age at which Van Cliburn swept the Tchaikovsky with this work and Maurizio Pollini won the Chopin competition.

Digitally it would be just as impressive. The performance would seem short though of the interpretive individuality expected of an important artist in his twenties. One would also expect more nuance and variation of tonal color--more sharply contrasting the piano's hard octaves, rich sonorities and tender lyricisms. More would be accomplished by indirection, rather than the head-on confrontation of the work with which Sgouros triumphed last night.

It was clearest how much more Sgouros knows now about power than about subtlety when he played his first encore, Schumann's seemingly innocent little "Traumerei." The performance was direct and straight the way you might do a simple song. But interpretively the work is anything but simple. The delicate balancing of voices, for example, where Schumann sometimes leaves it quite unclear which voice is dominant, eluded Sgouros. But the Chopin etude that followed brought back the boy's bravura.

Rostropovich conducted an all-Tchaikovsky program. There was a particularly delicate and flowing version of the Nutcracker Suite.

And the program began and ended with Tchaikovsky battle music. At the first was the "Battle of Poltava" from the obscure opera "Mazeppa." It shares one theme, the Russian hymn "God Preserve Thy People," with the closing work of the evening, the "1812" Overture. Last night's "1812" performance was all you could ever want--broad, rich, precise and loud, without being strident. It was much better than the one Rostropovich did at the Kennedy Center less than a month ago. The music was meant for the out-of-doors. There were two brass bands and the 16 cannons of J. Paul Barnett, who was brought on twice for bows by Rostropovich.

The Meadow Center's lavish sound system, which Wolf Trap has had to devise in place of acoustics in the temporary structure, sounded splendid.

The concert will be repeated Sunday at 8.

DOWNLOAD PDF OF THE ORIGINAL PROGRAM BOOK (Sgouros/Rostropovich at Wolf Trap - June 1982)

 

Introduction by Nancy Reagan, First Lady of the United States

Dimitris Sgouros performs Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto under the baton of Rostropovich (June 25 & 27, 1982, Wolf Trap)


Piano Prodigy Makes D.C. Debut

Joseph McLellan
Washington Post  June 26, 1982; Page C1

Kostas Sgouros is sitting on a window ledge in his family's suite at the Watergate Hotel, gazing out the window for one instant of quiet. Then he is off and running, bouncing off the well-upholstered furniture, rolling on the rug, hopping into the lap of a visitor and gazing soulfully into her eyes. At 6 1/2, he is cute as a puppy, but there is no sign at all that he may become a prodigy. That assignment belongs to his brother Dimitris, who is sitting in a corner, wrapped in the dignity of his 12 (almost 13) years and braced for another plunge into the celebrity whirlpool.

"Don't laugh at him," says Dimitris, smiling at Kostas. "I used to be like that. Sometimes, I still am." Kostas is at the Watergate because the Sgouros family stays together as much as it can. At the moment, the three other members of the family are following Dimitris, who is playing two concerts at Wolf Trap with the National Symphony Orchestra this weekend. In the fall, with the boys' mother, Marianthe, Kostas will go to live in London where Dimitris will study piano at the Royal Academy of Music and begin private lessons with Vladimir Ashkenazy. The boys' father, Soteris Sgouros, will stay with his medical practice in Piraeus, Greece, and visit London whenever he can.

Dimitris Sgouros did not begin playing the piano until he was 7--a late start in the prodigy business--but since then he has compensated spectacularly. In the last two years, since he began winning competitions and giving occasional concerts, he has made headlines in at least six languages. "Une e'toile est ne'e" ("A star is born"), proclaimed the French press after his performance at the Menton Festival. He was pronounced a "nuovo Mozart" in Italy, where he won a competition in 1980, a "Wunderkind" in Germany and a "Wonderkind" in Holland. Marianthe Sgouros keeps copies of the clippings and reads through them, showing fluency in English, French and Italian and an ability to get along in German. "It's not too hard," she says, picking up a clipping in Dutch, "very much like German." Wunderkind--Wonderkind; it's all the same. In any language, we are talking about a startling talent.

Sgouros is so startling, in fact, that he has already become the victim of a poison-pen campaign: letters to the National Symphony Orchestra alleging that he is not 12 years old as has been said, but 17. His mother has the documents to support his claim: a birth certificate signed by the mayor of Piraeus, school records that show him to be an "A" student in the seventh grade, a certificate from the Athens Conservatory that gives his age as 12 and pronounces him qualified to give concerts in public and teach piano at the most advanced levels.

But even without such documents, the suggestion is absurd to anyone who has seen Dimitris Sgouros face-to-face. His cheeks have never been near a razor and will not need one for years. There is nothing extraordinary about him except the reach and strength of his arms, the size and sure movements of his hands, the direct, no-nonsense intelligence of the mind that reveals itself when he puts down a Greek "Popeye" comic book and begins to talk about music:

"From the time I was 3 until I was 7, I loved electricity--electric things, electric noises, the blender and the vacuum cleaner--and we thought I would be an electrician. Then I began the piano: scales--do-re-mi-fa-so-la--and it was beautiful, and I knew I was a musician."

Marianthe Sgouros recalls how it began--by accident. She was out walking with Dimitris one day when they ran into her old piano teacher and, on the spur of the moment, she asked Dimitris if he would like to take lessons. A month later, she says, "he was eating up the piano books one after another and beginning to compose his own music, and the teacher told me, 'I think we should send him to the Conservatory.' After less than a year of lessons, he took the conservatory examination and entered at the sixth-year level."

"I was only half a year older than him," says Dimitris, looking over at Kostas who is playing on the floor, as though the younger brother may become a prodigy before our eyes at any moment. "I was like him."

At 12, testing the outer fringes of a virtuoso career, it is harder for Dimitris to be like Kostas--although it still happens. When Mstislav Rostropovich brought his pet dog, Pooks, to a rehearsal, Dimitris ran off with the dog whenever he had a spare minute. Like Kostas, he is cute, though in a more adult way, and he uses his cuteness for more adult purposes. "Will you teach me Russian?" he asked Nadia Efremov, Rostropovich's assistant and translator, after his debut with the NSO in Carnegie Hall, and she was totally charmed. "Honey," she said, "I will teach you all the Russian in the world."

Sgouros seems to have the necessary equipment for an international superstar--charm and an abundance of sheer, raw talent--but one other basic ingredient is needed: time to grow. And that requires his family's help, without which he might be picked to the bone in a single season by hungry entrepreneurs. A few minutes' conversation with Marianthe Sgouros makes it seem unlikely that this will happen.

"He is not a professional," she says. "Not yet. It is important that he does not perform too much. We try to confine his concerts to school vacation times. This summer he will give only six performances, half of them in Washington." Besides his performances at Wolf Trap with the National Symphony, Sgouros is giving a solo recital to open the University of Maryland Piano Festival next month. He will also give two performances in July at the Newport Music Festival and a performance on Sept. 12 in Karlsruhe, Germany--and that will be the limit of his public performances before he goes back to school. Hundreds of other offers have been turned down. "We try to accept only the most important concerts," says Marianthe Sgouros, "the ones where he will meet the best musicians."

Sgouros "has been a difficult child from his birth," according to his mother. "Now that the publicity has made him famous, it is not really different; he is still a difficult boy." The family is giving him as much autonomy as it thinks a 12-year-old can handle. "We only follow him," she says, "and we try to protect him--not push him, not hold him back. We leave him free to discuss and to decide what he wants to do."

One decision they are allowing their son to make is his choice of teachers. He has decided to study with Maurizio Pollini after Ashkenazy. The breadth that Pollini can add to his repertoire and the polish he can bring to his technique are probably exactly what Sgouros needs for optimum growth. The fact that Sgouros has chosen such a teacher, rather than a steel-fingered virtuoso, shows a very adult awareness of his present limitations and areas where he needs to grow.

Meanwhile, he is keeping his public appearances to a reasonable number and enjoying himself. Once, he substituted for Lazar Berman, whose Western tour was canceled this spring because he was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union. And at the end of February, in Munich, he substituted for Mstislav Rostropovich, who became ill before a scheduled cello recital. "In Munich," he recalls proudly, "they asked for five encores."

 

Maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy's private seaside villa in Epidavros (Greece) where he gave artistic advice to Dimitris Sgouros early in his career

(Ashkenazy and Sgouros first became acquainted in 1981/82 at the "Festival de Musique en Mer" in France)

Sgouros with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the London Philharmonia in December 2004


Dimitris Sgouros' Promising Piano

Joseph McLellan
Washington Post  July 19, 1982; Page C4

Dimitris Sgouros reached speeds last night, in parts of Beethoven's "Appassionata" and Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz," that might get him into the "Guinness Book of World Records." But that is not the news about the 12-year-old Greek pianist, and it is presumably not what earned him two standing ovations and two encores in the opening program of the University of Maryland Piano Festival.

What Sgouros proved last night, in his first solo recital in the Washington area, was that he is not merely an athlete (which he certainly is) but a musician as well, and potentially a musician of memorable stature. His remarkable hand-and-eye coordination has been clear since April, when he made his American debut with Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto in Carnegie Hall. And last night's audience, made up largely of fellow pianists attending the festival, was not the kind to be stampeded into ovations by mere demonstrations of speed, strength and accuracy. Sgouros gave them considerably more than that; besides coming on as 1982's most exciting version of The Great Juvenile Piano-Playing Machine, he showed a kind of precocious maturity that may eventually be seasoned into greatness. Technical prodigies are not particularly rare today, perhaps because of the increased vitamin content in our food. But musical perception at the highest levels is always unusual and always especially welcome. Sgouros is not yet at those rarefied levels, but he shows a very clear promise of the ability to reach them with the proper teaching and experience.

There must be a strong temptation, when nature hands you the equipment to zap audiences with pure technique, to let it go at that. But Sgouros showed higher aspirations in the slow movement of the "Appassionata" and the more tender interludes of the "Mephisto Waltz"--above all, perhaps, in the overall shaping of Chopin's great Fantasy in F minor, which can easily become a disjointed anthology of Chopin styles and special effects if the music is not subjected to a clearsighted, unifying intelligence.

In Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, except for an occasional small imbalance between his left and right hands he was a complete success. This does not mean that he made the work sound musically interesting; he played it as a very thorough and highly varied series of purely technical exercises. But that's what this music is all about; those who bring poetry to it are adding something from the outside, and this Sgouros either refused or was unable to do. But where the poetry existed--in Beethoven, Chopin and parts of the Liszt, he was aware of its existence, its qualities, and the kind of phrasing and dynamics required to make it stand out.

Still, in terms of poetry, he is not a remarkable musician, merely a remarkable 12-year-old; where he really shone last night, as in previous appearances, was in technique. He is sometimes very near the level of pure dexterity that made Vladimir Horowitz the wonder of the musical world a generation ago. This showed not only in the remarkable speed of the Presto finale in the "Appassionata," but earlier, in the long, glittering cascades right after the dramatic introductory statement, where each note was clearly articulated and distinct at breathtaking speed. Many pianists blur this music slightly, perhaps to cover occasional wrong or dropped notes. Sgouros was not mechanically perfect in every note, but this did not matter. Pianists seldom are, and Sgouros' mistakes were meaningless because he was playing the music, not a mere technical exercise.

His ability to differentiate and balance voices was musically very impressive, as was his knowledge of how to accent both lyric and dramatic passages, not only through dynamics but through phrasing. His mastery of agogic accents--the little rushes and hesitations that give the music a pulse of life--was impressive in Beethoven and dazzling in Chopin, where such niceties are essential to the music's meaning. The Beethoven, except for technical fireworks, was a fairly standard performance without much individual personality, but he has already put the stamp of his own personality on the way he plays the Chopin.

These performances will certainly grow as the pianist grows, and in 10 years, if all goes well, Dimitris Sgouros could become not merely an ex-prodigy but one of the most remarkable musicians of his generation.


Ravinia Begins with Ballet

Chicago Tribune May 27, 1984; Page V2

 

"... On July 16 an exciting "first-hearing" opportunity awaits audience members in a recital by pianist Dimitris Sgouros.  His program of Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and Balakirev is stunningly virtuosic."

 


The Celebrated Pianos of Summer

Joseph McLellan
Washington Post  July 1, 1984; Page F10

JULY IS SHAPING UP as piano month in Washington. This is not a new phenomenon; the University of Maryland's International Piano Festival and Competition is a well-established fixture on our July landscape, going into its 15th year. In the National Symphony's Bach and Beethoven Festival, which begins Saturday night, three outstanding young pianists, Andre-Michel Schub, Ken Noda and Andras Schiff, will be playing Beethoven concertos. And next Sunday in Lisner Auditorium, there will be a benefit recital by Dimitris Sgouros, the Greek prodigy who made his American recital debut at the Maryland Festival two years ago.

Two months short of his 15th birthday, Sgouros has become an international celebrity, with European critics echoing the amazement that was the main theme of reviews here two years ago. His American debut with orchestra was also a Washington event, though it happened first in Carnegie Hall and only later at Wolf Trap. On both occasions, Sgouros played Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the National Symphony. Now, on Angel DS-38105, he has recorded that same concerto with Yuri Simonov conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. It is claimed that Sgouros already has 30 concertos in his repertoire, and I must say I am curious to see how he would play Mozart--in his teens and again in his forties or fifties. But evidently he considers the Rachmaninoff one of his strongest efforts, and he has now set down his 14-year-old view of it for posterity.

The performance is not quite so amazing as it was two years ago in Carnegie Hall, simply because the element of surprise is missing. But it is still remarkable, and there is a strong element of surprise in the rapidity with which his approach to the music has matured. There are no problems in the formidable technique the music demands; apparently there never have been for Sgouros, and there should not be for another half-century if his incredible talent is properly managed.

His musicianship was also remarkable two years ago, but that is the area where growth can be most readily observed. He still has a tendency to show off his amazing hand-eye coordination. But he shows a growing sensitivity to the music's quieter emotions and the need for moments of gentleness not only as a contrast to the "good parts" but as statements valid in their own right. Two years ago (in his Beethoven "Appassionata" at Maryland, for example), it was possible to speculate on which recordings he had studied to get an idea of the finer points of phrasing and expression. That cannot be done with this recording; his interpretation proclaims that the concerto belongs to Sgouros and he is ready to place his performance next to any other pianist's. I recommend a hearing of the slow movement, in particular, as an index of how he has grown.

Other recent piano recordings of special interest:

Washington musician Haskell Small is considerably more than a pianist, as can be heard in his first recording, "The Music of Haskell Small" on Orion ORS 84477. All eight works on the record, ranging in date from 1968 to 1983, are his own compositions, and he performs as a pianist in each of them. They include a song cycle, "The Twisted Pine Branch," with texts translated from Chinese; three earlier songs, all well interpreted by soprano Judith Nicosia; and "Short Story," a one-movement chamber work for piano and winds, which he performs with members of the Dorian Wind Quintet. For solo piano, there are his Sonata No. 3, "Three Impressions" and "Introduction and Fugue."

Small has a rich imagination as a composer and an assured mastery of forms whether he is writing for voice, chamber ensemble or his own instrument. But there is considerably more vitality and personal identification in the piano works, even in the "Three Impressions," which were composed for intermediate students, and the "Introduction and Fugue," which was composed as a competition showpiece.

In the "Impressions," he shows an ability to make cogent statements in brief, simple forms. The "Introduction and Fugue" goes into structural and emotional complexities that equal and justify its impressive virtuoso demands. But the Sonata, which gives his imagination more space and freedom, is the most impressive work on the record, highly original in form and thematic material without being self-consciously modernistic. This music has a sense of traditional structures and values without losing sight of its own era; it is inventive and accessible. Small is as accomplished a composer as he is a pianist.

"All-Tube Analog" proclaims a notice on the liner of Performance Recordings' newest issue (PR-4), which presents pianist James Boyk in Debussy's "Reflets dans l'Eau" ("Reflections in the Water"), Stravinsky's Sonata (1924), Schoenberg's Six Little Pieces, Op. 19, and Ravel's Sonatine. That proud, defiant notice proclaims that this company is not accepting such newfangled fads as the transistor and digital recording; its microphones go through old-fashioned tube amplifiers into old-fashioned analog tape recorders, and it is (justifiably) bragging about the sound it puts on its records through this process.

What comes through my loudspeakers from this record is, in fact, some of the most realistic and subtly nuanced piano sound I have heard on records in a long time; it will undoubtedly deteriorate after repeated playings, but that is another story. Repeated playings are likely, too, because it is an intelligently chosen program, focusing (as Boyk says in his highly literate notes) on "varied reactions to late Romanticism's self-absorption and lush sound." The interpretation is worthy of the extraordinary care that has gone into making this record, and the result is something to cherish.

Speaking of late Romanticism: Roy Hamlin Johnson of the University of Maryland specializes in one of that period's more interesting and relatively unknown composers, John Powell. Born in Richmond in 1882, Powell was well known as a pianist and respected as a composer in Europe before World War I.

His style at that time was a richly emotional, intricately structured and technically demanding late Romanticism. When he returned to Virginia, his interest turned from that style (which had gone out of favor) to the use of American folk materials, but his early works remain a fascinating exemplar of the Romantic style in its final glory.

On Composers Recordings CRI SD 505, Johnson gives an excellent performance of his "Sonate Psychologique," a dark, brooding work whose movements have such titles as "Struggle," "Submission," "Scherzo Diabolique: In the Clutches" and "Thanatopsis" ("Contemplation of Death"). The record also contains Powell's Variations and Double Fugue on a Theme of F.C. Hahr. This is an abstract work, rich in contrapuntal ideas and nicely contrasted to the "Psychological Sonata" in nearly everything except its considerable technical demands. Johnson plays it with great bravura and superb control.


Dimitris Sgouros: Coming of Age

Joseph McLellan
Washington Post  July 9, 1984; Page C4

Two years ago, as a 12-year-old prodigy, Greek pianist Dimitris Sgouros amazed Washington audiences. Still clearly a child at that time, the young musician played with phenomenal speed, precision and grasp of musical logic and structures. There was a shade of impatience while he was sitting (quietly but uneasily) through the orchestral part of a concerto. When he was not triumphantly demonstrating his amazing technique -- when the music was slow and thoughtful or when it touched on deeper feelings -- one had a feeling of enormous power held uneasily on a tight leash.

The 14-year-old Sgouros, performing last night at the Lisner Auditorium, was no less prodigious in technique and, in musicianship, somewhat more amazing. He has grown considerably -- not only in physical stature but in musical sensitivity and depth. Today, there is a sense of relaxation, even of repose in quiet passages, that was less evident in his last appearances here. He has come to terms with the idea that not all music exists for displays of technical brilliance. The most exciting point of last night's program may have been the acrobatics in Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit," but musically, the slow moments and the passages of emotional communication were the most impressive. The slow, solemn moodiness of "Le Gibet" was as striking as the delicately wrought, high-speed filigree of "Ondine" and the sinister brilliance of "Scarbo." Sgouros still has much to learn before his musicianship can equal his formidable technique. But what he has learned already is a clear sign of enormous, largely untapped growth potential. One can only wonder what this talent may be like in 20 or 30 years, at the point where most pianists come into their prime. In the last two years, while continuing his high school studies in Athens and music studies in London, he has also begun a concert career that might have arrested growth in a less robust talent. There was no sign last night that he has suffered from such an overload. Perhaps he makes child's play of performances that would be hard work for most other musicians. But there was little sense of playfulness -- rather, a mature, poised seriousness -- in his approach to the keyboard last night.

He was not playing under ideal circumstances. Despite intensive work by a technician before the recital and during the intermission, his piano was not of a quality equal to the artist using it. Response of the keyboard and pedals seemed sometimes erratic, the tone lacked richness and some notes refused to stay in tune. Sgouros rose above such limitations, after a few awkward moments early in the program, and before long it was possible to forget the defects of the instrument -- as one had already forgotten the age of the performer.

The program did not begin particularly well, at least for purists. A Scarlatti sonata seemed to be played primarily as a warm-up exercise or a test of dexterity. Sgouros gave it a style more appropriate to the 19th than the 18th century, with dynamics that Scarlatti could not have imagined on the instruments of his time. But many pianists have had long, distinguished careers without learning more about Scarlatti than Sgouros knows at 14.

His Beethoven makes some graceful references to 18th-century style, and in these he performed well, providing neat contrasts to the stormy romanticism of the music's main statements. In the slow movement of the Chopin, he reached a level of thoughtful sensitivity that might make any pianist proud, and he proved that this was no accident when he played a Chopin Nocturne as an encore.


Piano Prodigy Shows Technical Majesty in Debut (Ravinia Festival)

John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune  July 18, 1984; Page D_A4

"... he maintained his pianistic composure with an astonishing degree of control throughout a program that would have tested the mettle of a Horowitz or Serkin....  it is difficult to imagine anyone, Liszt included, capturing the wild diablerie - also the vulgarity - of the Mephisto Waltz with greater panache..."

DOWNLOAD MP3 - LISZT MEPHISTO WALTZ No 1 - Dimitris Sgouros (Live 1987 Melbourne)

 

"... Cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Dimitris Sgouros will perform at 1 p.m. Saturday in the second program of a new, 12-week series of concerts..."

 

Dimitris Sgouros with Claudio Abbado

 

Dimitris Sgouros with Henry Fogel (President of Chicago Symphony)


A GIFTED PIANIST WHO IS NOT YET 15

Donald Rosenberg, Knight-Ridder News Service
The Philadelphia Inquirer  July 27, 1984; Page E03
Section: FEATURES PEOPLE HOME ENTERTAINMENT
Edition: FIRST

Initially, Dimitris Sgouros' professional ambitions might not seem much more idealistic than those harbored by your average, gifted concert artist.

"I would like to play with all the great orchestras and great conductors and in all the great halls," the Greek pianist said in his forthright, assured manner. Sgouros is hardly average, however. At the rate he's going, in fact, Sgouros very well could achieve his goal before he's allowed to sip a beer in most of the United States.

Sgouros, you see, is all of 14 years old, and he already has performed with many noted orchestras and conductors and on more than a few of the world's major concert stages.

His first recording, a recital of works by Schumann and Brahms, released recently by Angel Records, revealed him to be a pianist of remarkable artistic powers. His recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Yuri Simonov also is available, and he is scheduled to record Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 with conductor Rafael Kubelik and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Sgouros, who was born in Athens, gave his first recital at the age of 7. He was 11 when he first performed with an orchestra - Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12, K. 414, with France's Cannes Symphony at a young artists' festival.

"In Greece, it's impossible to play with an orchestra so early," Sgouros said. "It is prohibited." Since then, he has performed with such ensembles as the London Symphony, Caracas Philharmonic, English Chamber Orchestra, London Philharmonic and our own National Symphony Orchestra.

Sgouros, who will turn 15 on Aug. 30, doesn't fall into the mold of the typical prodigy. He was never sequestered in a practice room or propelled by stage parents. Instead, he followed their wishes and led as normal a life as possible.

"I never had a problem as a child," said Sgouros. "My parents let me do what I wanted."

But the young pianist, who also excels in mathematics and physics, long has maintained a resolutely clear vision of his role in the grand scheme of things. "Music is my life," he said. " . . . I don't really love mathematics. I like, but don't love."

What Sgouros certainly has a passion for is the piano, which he began studying at 6 with his mother's teacher. After six months, the instructor told the boy that he couldn't do anything more for him. So Sgouros auditioned at the Athens Conservatory, which gave him a scholarship to study with Maria Herogiorgiou-Sigara, Greece's most noted pianist.

Sgouros received professor's and teacher's diplomas from the conservatory when he was 12. He then studied piano at the University of Maryland, after which he entered London's Royal Academy of Music to earn a diploma, which usually takes four to six years to receive and is restricted to musicians 18 and older. Sgouros, at 13, finished the course in 11 weeks.

"They found me completely ready. That's what they told me," he said. Indeed, he advanced so quickly that today he says he spends less and less time polishing his craft. "Now I don't practice very much because I don't have problems at all. Now I work more with my mind than with my fingers," he said.

Sgouros plays "all the major piano concertos - about 45," and his repertory ranges from Scarlatti to Schoenberg. But his favorite literature remains music from the middle romantic period - such as pieces by Brahms, Schumann, Liszt and Chopin.

"I probably will take up conducting or composition studies after high school," he said. "But they will only be secondary. I never want to stop my piano. I don't think anybody has to worry about the future because everything will come naturally."


Ottawa Citizen; July 6, 1985; Jacob Siskind  [View original article in Google News Archive]

View this article in Google News Archive

"Dimitris Sgouros will be heard at the NAC Theatre (Ottawa)..."


VIOLINIST, PIANIST END FESTIVAL'S CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES WITH STYLE
Sun Sentinel; Fort Lauderdale; Apr 28, 1986; Tim Smith, Music Writer.



Abstract:
He was no less impressive in his role as accompanist for [Erick Friedman], especially in the bold and brilliant D minor Sonata for violin and piano by Saint-Saens. Sgouros was not content to be a second banana; he tackled the piano part with such gusto that there were times when Friedman -- hardly a shrinking violet -- was all but drowned out.
 

The Palm Beach Festival's delightful chamber music series ended in high style Saturday evening at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse with a dynamic recital by veteran violinist Erick Friedman and piano prodigy Dimitris Sgouros.

The Greek pianist, who has been actively concertizing and recording since he was 13, possesses more than an assured technique. He has genuine flair and not a little interpretive depth that places him on a much higher level than the typical gifted youth. Now 16, Sgouros seems to understand fully the difference between playing notes and making music.

That understanding served him extremely well in Liszt's B minor Sonata. I must confess a limited tolerance for this work, which usually sounds to my ears like the musical equivalent of an old windbag. But Sgouros managed to lessen the sonata's seemingly interminable length by means of his striking technique, vividly etched phrasing and potent ability to produce the necessary array of tone colors. It was an animated, penetrating performance.

He was no less impressive in his role as accompanist for Friedman, especially in the bold and brilliant D minor Sonata for violin and piano by Saint-Saens. Sgouros was not content to be a second banana; he tackled the piano part with such gusto that there were times when Friedman -- hardly a shrinking violet -- was all but drowned out.

The result became increasingly exciting as the two artists practically egged each other on. The music seemed propelled from an inner spring, beginning with the steady stream of melody in the connected first and second movements and then reaching the wild cascades of the similarly seamless third and fourth.

Though Friedman's playing may have occasionally lacked tonal richness, he offered some sizzling bravura. And whenever the sonata turned lyrical, he was ready with melting phrases and tasteful nuances.

There were abundant nuances in Wieniawski's Legende as well; the violinist caressed the music with considerable charm. And the same composer's Polonaise, which Friedman had rather stiffly performed earlier in the festival, sounded far more animated and characterful this time, with Sgouros adding his own propulsive edge at the keyboard.

ERICK FRIEDMAN/DIMITRIS SGOUROS

The violinist and pianist in recital Saturday evening at Royal Poinciana Playhouse, Palm Beach

 


PIANIST DIMITRIS SGOUROS - LIKE NO ONE ELSE

By John Ardoin / Music Critic of The Dallas Morning News
May 7, 1986

"... his manner is highly individual. He goes his own way with scant regard for any prevailing trend I know of in pianism, he doesn't sound or play remotely like anyone else...  Sgouros' talent is such that he makes his own rules... And I embrace them, particularly in this era of stillborn ideas and performances."


PIANIST SGOUROS IS AN OLD MASTER AT 19

By John Ardoin / Music Critic of The Dallas Morning News
Published 01-12-1989

  

After a season's absence, Dimitris Sgouros returned to Dallas, this time in recital for Civic Music at the Majestic Theatre. Now an old man of 19, he gave a program that would put the fear of God in the heart of any pianist of any age.

The evening, however, was just as much about clarity as velocity; just as much about musical curiosity and knowledge as technical hurdles and great risk-taking.

Sgouros began with a remarkable set of dance pieces by Ferruccio Busoni, performed Chopin's Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise in the composer's rarely encountered original version, tackled Liszt's Reminiscences de Don Juan and ended with Schumann's Symphonic Etudes in a performance that included the posthumous variations.

All of this was the act of a fecund mind, one uninterested in the status quo. Along with the adventurousness of the program, Sgouros seemed to be experimenting with new weights and colors that took him farther beyond the pianistic norm. Some worked, some did not. But nothing he did was unthoughtful or merely provocative.

Busoni's Fourth Ballet-Scene is a collection of waltzes written at the end of the last century and reworked two decades later. Despite their Viennese flavorings, they have a surprising impressionistic cast -- the same intoxicating mixture found in Ravel's La Valse. Sgouros played them with a fluidity that suavely masked their intricate difficulties and left as residue only a sense of deft elegance.

We have become accustomed to the Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise in a solo version of an arrangement made of the piece for piano and orchestra. But Sgouros reminded us that it is a quite different, more intimate work as originally conceived by Chopin. It was the interior spirit of the work he was after rather than its surface glitter, and his was the sort of creative performance that made one rethink this music.

If up to this point Sgouros seemed to have been holding the might of his fingers in check, he unfurled them in all their demonic power and fleet articulation with the Liszt Don Juan paraphrase. I still don't believe what I heard. This must rank as Liszt's most extravagant and demanding solo keyboard work.

Most pianists avoid it entirely; many make cuts; still others play it at what for Sgouros would be a practice tempo. But he has gone beyond conquering the notes; he revels in them and pushes himself to what must be the outer extremes of his considerable facility and pianistic panache.

It is impossible to perform this near-symphonic piece without handfuls of wrong notes. Sgouros missed his share, yet his accuracy was far above par. What mattered more was the brilliant way he clarified Liszt's structuring of three of the opera's highlights -- the overture, the duet "La ci darem la mano' and the Champagne aria -- and illuminated the tangled lines of this sprawling piece of bravura.

The Schumann came almost as an anticlimax, though it, too, was ripe in expression and searching in pianism. If anyone thought by the end of the Schumann that Sgouros was spent, they must have gone into shock at his second encore. He pulled out of his hat one more dazzling, grueling and little-heard transcription -- The Blue Danube Waltz as reset for solo piano by Adolf Schulz-Evler.

It is little known because few pianists are willing to risk its dangers in public or challenge the memory of the legendary recording made of it by Josef Lhevinne. In recent times I can only recall Jorge Bolet and Earl Wild placing themselves on the line with this glorious escapade in three-quarter time.

It held no fears for Sgouros. The way he dispatched its terrors without a loss of veneer or stylishness tells better than words can of why this Greek wonder continues to command so bright a place in the sun among contemporary pianists.


Photo: Dimitris Sgouros (DMN) ; LOCATION: Sgouros, Dimitris.

 


Review from American Record Guide - Carnegie Hall recital April 14th 2000

"Dimitris Sgouros, Piano"

Carnegie Hall


Author: HARRIS GOLDSMITH

According to the biography printed in the program for his April 14 Carnegie Hall recital, pianist Dimitris Sgouros has been dubbed "the Greek myth". I feel impelled to clarify the matter: Sgouros, an erstwhile wunderkind, may be legitimately called a legend (he began his career at 7 and recorded the monstrously difficult Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto at 14), but he has carved for himself a real niche in the down-to-earth world of music. At 30, the mature Sgouros plays soberly, as a decidedly serious artist. He is no creature of mythology.

His recital made it plain enough that much of his music making is emotionally warm and communicative, and he certainly has kept his virtuoso pianism in tip-top working condition. Not only that, his admirably self-effacing interpretations of Schubert's B-flat Impromptu, D 935:3; Schumann's C-major Fantasy, Op. 17; and Brahms's F-minor Sonata, Op. 5 had an admirable structural clarity, accurate as a blueprint.

The pianist, possibly ill at ease after so long an absence from New York, seemed overly diffident in delineating and "orchestrating" the coloristic possibilities in the Schubert; although tempos were right on the mark, a certain grayness clouded the musical events. (I question, however, his injudicious cut in the Tema, omitting the octave-lower repetition of the final cadence.) The Schumann, compared with so many contorted, barnstorming subjective interpretations, sounded somewhat straitlaced in its orderly classical decorum, and one might have wished, at times, for a more passionate vigor and boldness in parts of the stormy first movement. But the march-like second movement came off stunningly well (have the celebrated murderous skips at the end ever been more accurately negotiated?) And the serenely flowing "Langsam..." movement had the requisite feeling of transfiguration.

The account of the youthful Brahms Sonata after intermission turned out to be even more compelling. Sgouros, by now fully warmed to his task, added a degree of confidence and abandon to his impeccably efficient command of the sprawling, notoriously ungrateful figurations, and let the sonorities pile up with more darkness and amplitude. (I wish he hadn't chosen to bypass the first movement exposition repeat, just as Radu Lupu did some weeks earlier).

Of the two encores, Liszt's Valse Caprice was played with irresistible elegance and whimsy, Chopin's Etude Op.10:4 was brisk and accurate, but a trifle matter-of-fact.

Sgouros recorded the Schumann and the Brahms a few days after his concert. I look forward to hearing both.

07/01/2000

Sgouros at Carnegie Hall

 

 Flashback - November 1982, April 1985 & April 1986   

 

"Erick Friedman was overwhelmed by the boy's incredible keyboard memory and virtuosity...

Dimitris learned this piece before the concert in just one minute and 50 seconds..."

  

  INTERVIEW with Dimitris Sgouros, Erick Friedman, Dr Mark P. Malkovich III on New York's WQXR radio ahead of historic Sgouros/Friedman concert in Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
 Listen to interview  lofi.gif (90 bytes) Part 1  hifi.gif (134 bytes) Part 2

Clavier Magazine -  "Sgouros, on the basis of this performance, seems to have the makings of one of the century's great pianists" 

 

 

"He is.. very near the level of pure dexterity that made Vladimir Horowitz the wonder of the musical world.."

 

Sgouros plays Chopin's Piano Concerto No 1 at Carnegie Hall (April 30, 1986)

A review from The New York Times by Bernard Holland (onetime chief music critic)

"Mr Sgouros has a natural feel for melodic lines and seemed to rejoice in his rich, ringing instrumental sound..."

This, incidentally, was one of the last concerts to be performed in the famed original acoustic of Carnegie Hall before controversial renovation works began in May 1986


 

Sgouros performs Mozart Piano Concerto No 21 KV467 in Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York

 


 Sgouros triumphal in opening recital of Newport Music Festival, July 8, 2011

 

  

Dimitris Sgouros receives rapturous standing ovation at Gala Opening Recital of the 2011 Newport Music Festival (Rhode Island)


 

 In homage of the 200th anniversary of Franz Liszt in 2011, Warner/EMI Classics proudly announces a new double-CD set entitled "Essential Liszt" with landmark recordings by Dimitris Sgouros and other featured Liszt exponents of the modern era

 

"Essential Liszt" - the much-anticipated new Warner/EMI Classics album (worldwide release July 2011)

       


 


 

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