The pianist talks about the challenges of Rachmaninov, surrendering to the music, and being one with the orchestra.

How do you feel about making your Proms debut?

Tremendously excited! I have a huge amount of respect for the history that has come before me, it is very significant not only in British culture but internationally too. I feel honoured and privileged to be a part of it representing Australia and look forward to making my own contribution.

You’ve performed Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto a few times now – what makes this piece right for the Proms?

This concerto really pushes the boundaries and horizons of both technical possibilities on a piano and emotional expression. I also find this piece to be monumental and even apocalyptic, although it resolves in a triumph of unconditional love and pure joy of life by the end of it. Before we get there it speaks of despair, inner conflict of the darkness and the light and innocent pure love.

What for you are the biggest challenges of the work?

It’s a very technically demanding work, in fact amongst the most difficult ever written for the piano – there is a good movie called “Shine” about this piece. On a practical level there is the challenge of having a very sharp and concentrated mind of course, to play all the heavy notes. The biggest goal though is the content and the musical message – to be able to immerse fully into this turbulent world without sparing myself and by being completely selfless in order to come close to the artistic truth of this work.  It’s also about collaborating, communicating and creating with the orchestra in a particular moment, so trying to be aware of it all.

How do you find the expression in such a technically challenging piece?

At a certain point one must surrender to the music and simply let it lead me forward. All the hard work is done at home and come the concert I need to let the music breathe and almost be an observer. One walks a fine line between controlling the performance but also just letting it flow and allowing it be. A bit like life really!

How important is the relationship you have with conductor and orchestra in a work as difficult as the Rachmaninov?

It is essential, we are one organism. We need to come together and breathe together. The expression ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” applies here. It doesn’t always happen right away, it is a process in which we all learn about one another. If either the soloist or the conductor’s mindset is set to “create an interpretation” as opposed to merge with one another’s musical pulses and breath thus creating one whole organic process, it immediately becomes very evident and the whole performance suffers.

What have been some of your favourite Proms concerts with other artists over the years?

A lot of my friends and colleagues have performed here so there are too many to name. That said, I do always appreciate Janine Jansen’s performances, she has a very focused and musical approach to her music making.

Are there any Proms concerts you’re looking forward to this year?

Indeed, Emanuel Ax with the Vienna Philharmonic and Mozart’s piano concerto No 14 in E flat major. Sadly due to my own concerts I miss the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen with Paavo Järvi. It’s a pity, I really would have loved to have heard it. Also, La Scala under Riccardo Chailly performing the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major with Leonidas Kavakos looks very interesting. I’m also very pleased that the Cincinnati Symphony will be performing with Louis Langrée. I toured with them earlier this year and it was such a special experience. I am glad our paths cross at the Proms once more.

What do you hope audiences will take away from your performance of Rachmaninov’s third?

I hope they are thrilled and exhilarated by this magical music, the way I am when I hear it. I hope they take the evening to enjoy but also reflect on what they heard. I hope it heals, excites and rejuvenates them.

Alexander Gavrylyuk performs Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto with Thomas Dausgard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at the Proms on August 13. 

He also performs in recital at Melbourne Recital Hall on November 11.