Pianist Aaron Kurz to perform with City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra
American pianist Aaron Kurz will be the soloist at the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s second concert in West Road since the end of lockdown.
He will be playing Prokofiev’s third piano concerto, the most popular of Prokofiev’s concertos and a work that is notoriously difficult for the soloist.
The 26 year old was studying at the Royal College of Music in London when the first lockdown started in March 2020 and has been hoping to return to the UK ever since, but it will be his first time in Cambridge.
Aaron said: “I'll be playing Prokofiev’s third concerto which is a really fun piece. It was written 1921 and I personally find the early 1900s to be one of the more interesting periods of music where you have this influx of a bunch of different styles going on at the same time, all with their own little twist. This piece is still very comprehensible by an audience where I think some music of that period can be sort of questionable in that regard. But it still has a lot of that modernist flavour where Prokofiev will deliberately write in wrong notes or sort of sarcastic things. It's a very exciting piece, very virtuosic, and lots of fun stuff for the pianist. It is also has fun stuff for the audience to listen for. I have never gone to a performance where I didn't feel like the audience really enjoyed it. It's just a thoroughly enjoyable piece to listen to.
“It's definitely on the difficult side to play, not quite the most difficult but it's up there. I actually already knew the piece when I was contacted for this performance.
One of the most characteristic things I think of Prokofiev’ writing is his orchestration as he creates these incredible effects with various different wind instruments and percussion that really gives the music so much depth and character to it. Something I enjoy is his really quick changes of character in the musical. You'll be in one character, and suddenly you'll go from sarcastic to angry without any transition.”
He was introduced to the CCSO by Cambridge composer David Earl and invited to perform as a soloist. He will be conducted by the CCSO’s Robert Hodge.
Something that Aaron enjoys alongside performing is the travel to different countries it allows. He has already performed across three continents in venues ranging from the Carnegie Hall in New York, to the Palace of Peace and Harmony in Kazakhstan. He has been the soloist with numerous orchestras and a prize-winner in many competitions. In recent years, he travelled to China to teach, lecture, and perform, and he is currently pursuing a Master of Musical Arts at the Yale School of Music, having completed an Artist Diploma at the Royal College of Music in London.
“I spent a year in London Royal College of Music and had planned to travel after school finished but of course that didn’t happen because suddenly I had to go part way through my course. I thought I would only be home for a month.”
His trip to Kazakhstan was “fascinating”, he says.
“I was chosen to go because a clip of me playing had become very popular on Youtube and I think that’s how they heard of me. I saw a bunch of fun sites while I was there and there was this incredible pageantry because I think it was government sponsored. It was very lavish. I was met at the airport with flowers and these Kazakh figurines. It was unreal to me as an impressionable 17 year old. It was definitely my first experience where I felt blown away by the possibilities of a career in music and the places I could go with it.
“I was a semi finalist, I didn't advance to the finals. But I found out I just really love travelling. I think that's one of my favourite things besides music, being able to experience different cultures and places. I'm excited to come to Cambridge to see that and I just enjoy travelling around so it's definitely a big upside that comes with the profession.”
It was also some much needed encouragement as working hard on his piano practice in high school meant giving up on so many other activities.
“I started playing when I was three,” says Aaron. “And I think there were some times at high school where it could be a bit much as it was a lot of pressure. There were definitely times where honestly I would have rather been a normal high schooler. There was so much work that I couldn't hang out with friends because of practice. Clearly something told me to carry on because I didn't quit. But I did wobble on it.
“I felt like there were certain things that I missed out on. I wanted to play in sports teams but the choice was always, it’s sports or piano, and I chose piano for obvious reasons. But Still it was tough. I couldn't go to a birthday party today because I had to do work for a competition. And that made it harder I think for a certain period of time. I lost a little bit of motivation and inspiration as a result because it was keeping me from doing normal things. But no one made me do that. It was still something that I wanted to do and I couldn't tear myself away from it.
“It was only at some point in my undergraduate degree, where I learned more, I performed and I started enjoying it more. Everything snowballed to a certain point where I was like, okay, I can do this and I want to do this. That was at about age 20. It’s a big commitment because it's a hard field to make it in. And although it’s incredibly rewarding you have to really want it because you can make a lot more money doing a lot of other things.”
Alongside performing, Aaron spent two years working for the Van Cliburn Foundation’s “Cliburn in the Classroom,” a program which teaches classical music principles to children in underprivileged school districts. The goal of the program’s interactive seminars – to inspire a love of music in children and help educate the next generation of classical musicians.
“I think it’s really important to pass music along to the next generation,” he says. “I think music has such a power to inspire people that you sort of have an obligation to give back as an artist, because it's one of the things you can do really well. And you can really, I think affect people that way.”
Aaron Kurz will be performing with the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra on December 4 at West Road Concert Hall. Visit .adcticketing.com/whats-on/concert/ccso-concert-with-aaron-kurz-piano/