Greek pianist Dimitris Sgouros started his professional career at nine, but the years on the road since then have done nothing to dim the enthusiasm he has for the musical life, as JILL McGIVERING discovers.
Disciplining child prodigy Greek pianist Dimitris Sgouros was apparently a straightforward matter: "When I was a child, being allowed to play the piano was for me like being given as many sweets as I wanted," recalls Sgouros. "If I was naughty, they just said to me: that's it - you can't play the piano."
Today, at 22, that early enthusiasm and passion still shine through strongly in everything Sgouros says as he speaks excitedly and insistently about his music, his ambitions and his demanding concert schedule.
Despite more than a decade of international appearances, any questions about the possibility of emotional exhaustion or a loss of freshness are firmly rejected: "If I perform for the next 50 years, I'll still have freshness and pleasure from music," he insists.
Sgouros was hailed as a prodigy within months of starting piano lessons at the age of six; by nine, he was already at the start of his professional career, facing a performance schedule which has taken him round the world innumerable times and won him such critical accolades as the words of Mstislav Rostropovich who described him simply as: "A miracle - a creation from God."
Sgouros regrets nothing of his unusual childhood. On the insistence of his parents, he completed his formal school education and close family life was maintained as much as possible in a schedule which frequently saw Sgouros on the road.
All through adolescence, he was accompanied on his travels by his mother, also his business manager. Where possible father and younger brother (now 15) would come along too.
Although Sgouros won prizes for composition as well as for his skills as a pianist as a pre-teenager, composing has not kept up as a parallel interest, he says.
"I don't remember composition as something that ever really moved me as much as playing the piano," he says. "I felt so fantastic playing. Whenever I sat at the piano, I was in a different world. Every new piece was full of interest. Even now, when I've performed the great piano compositions many times, I still feel I'm creating them again on stage."
A new challenge for the future may come as a conductor, however, particularly if the opportunity comes to conduct Sgouros' great passion, Italian and German opera.
"Sometimes when I am performing with an orchestra, the conductor has been late for rehearsals and I've had to conduct my own concerto, so I have had a taste of conducting," he says.
"I have been invited to conduct in the past but so far I haven't felt ready to do it - I've always been absorbed in my mind with playing the piano. But in another three or four years, that's something I'd love to do."
Other future plans? Having a family will probably figure somewhere in later life, Sgouros hopes, but quite where the time and energy will come from, he's not yet sure.
"I do have many girlfriends in different parts of the world," says Sgouros. "But concert life, no matter how much you enjoy it, is a life full of work and very demanding of energy. If I had a family too, that would be another serious responsibility on top of what is already a serious life. Maybe when I'm 30..."
Dimitris Sgouros performs at the Concert Hall of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on Saturday.
Hong Kong Cultural Centre
|"As for the (Liszt) Norma transcription, the work is usually played to show a pianist's skill. Sgouros didn't need that. His skill was so extraordinary that he could play it actually as opera... such is his genius, so sensitive his virtuosity, that a single recital hardly begins to plumb that limitless artistry."|
李斯特改編自《Norma 諾瑪》歌劇的鋼琴曲，一般演奏者都用來炫耀技巧。Sgouros史古羅斯根本不作此圖。他的技巧原已登峰造極，直把琴曲當作歌劇來演奏。… 琴藝高超而敏感，一個演奏會只是牛刀小試，不足以蠡測其似海鴻才。
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) [published by News Corporation]
"Sgouros' brilliant show of hands"
Dimitris Sgouros is no longer saddled with audiences watching a child prodigy. Instead on Saturday the audience heard an extraordinarily sensitive and powerful musician of many distinctive qualities.
The first quality one notices in his work is Sgouros' total command of the piano. This is unmistakable in the dizzying Liszt operatic transcription, of course.
But in the Beethoven and Chopin, his command allowed him to reach uncharted musical areas and still retain that absolute musicality of the original. After this control, little by little, one grows aware of Sgouros' beauty of sound, the genuine loveliness of all that strikes the ear.
The third quality - a quality which takes a quantum jump to recognise - is his grace. This is not the grace of a facile pianist. It is the grace of a pianist willing to forsake orthodox rhythms to achieve his goal.
By taking chances with the metre, he can throw the ornaments and sudden changes like spray around the original melody. His tones can be resolute or light. Even with the most startling changes, he can add depth, perspective and roundness.
Sgouros' Chopin was hardly textbook playing. But even in the most outrageous liberties, one felt that he retained those grand lines which sweep through a piece.
What were those rhythmic freedoms? He treated the Scherzo with its literal meaning, as a joke - if a black or evil joke. Those first enigmatic triplets were initially played like a throwaway line, almost unheard. The titanic following themes were sometimes thunderous, sometimes tender. Not a phrase was repeated in the same way.
Sgouros almost battered down the bass with a barrel-house blues abandon, yet never forsaking that great overflowing mass of themes.
The rhythms were uneven, almost ungainly at times. Yet never - not even to the last double octaves - did Sgouros forsake overwhelming power of the piece.
Polonaise had that same command and flexibility. When one expected the major theme to come booming out, Sgouros almost hid it. And then, like the magician that he is, he pulled it out just in time.
Perhaps there was more "respect" - or at least less rubato in the Beethoven "Appassionata" Sonata.
I have never heard anyone play it with such pent-up energy and emotion. The shape was understated at first, it heaved and pulsed through the first two movements. And finally, in that last presto coda, Sgouros let it all come out.
This was not simply a conclusion with a virtuoso's flourish. It was totally rhythmical, totally powerful.
The second half was devoted to Liszt. First the euphoric Harmonies du Soir. The work itself can sound maudlin in lesser hands: the wandering lines in thirds, the little arpeggios are all Liszt at his most dreamy.
Yet Sgouros, by playing it straight, by not taking the liberties he did with Chopin, showed just how sensitive those huge hands can be.
So bewitching was his wizardry that the audience had to catch its breath for about 10 seconds before the applause.
As for the Norma transcription, the work is usually played to show a pianist's skill. Sgouros didn't need that.
His skill was so extraordinary that he could play it actually as opera. The arias and their mixtures, the embellishments and cadenzas - cadenzas where Sgouros transformed the 32nd-notes into 64th-notes without any effort - made for logic and dazzlement at one time.
The three encores - by Scriabin, Moszkowski and Chopin - showed different aspects of Sgouros. But such is his genius, so sensitive his virtuosity, that a single recital hardly begins to plumb that limitless artistry.
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