The Vancouver Recital Society hosts London, England-based pianist Ariel Lanyi on March 3. (photo © Kaupo Kikkas)
“Art is there to remind us that there is something bigger and greater than the present moment, something that will remain long after we are gone, which is worthy of our devotion and commitment,” pianist Ariel Lanyi told the Independent in a recent interview. Lanyi will perform an afternoon concert at Vancouver Playhouse March 3.
Hosted by the Vancouver Recital Society, Lanyi will play works by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) and Max Reger (1883-1916). In a Facebook post, the London, England-based pianist noted his pleasure at working on Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Bach, calling it an “underrated masterpiece of the late-Romantic era” that he couldn’t wait to bring to the stage in 2024.
“Max Reger had a problem: writing fugues was too easy for him. He could jot down fugues with the same ease that Picasso could scribble drawings. Hence, his music sometimes falls into a trap of gratuitous polyphony. However, when he put his heart and soul into a work, as he did with the Bach Variations (which he considered to be his finest work), the result is worthwhile,” Lanyi explained to the Independent. “We hear a multitude of styles in this work – at times, we hear the world of Brahms and his traditional harmonic language; at times, we enter the post-Wagnerian sphere, and we even get a glimpse of more decadent music that was yet to be written. Still, it hangs together organically, and comes to a rousing ending, as all threads convene and the piano truly emulates the sound of the organ.
“The reason this work is underrated and underplayed is quite obvious,” he added. “People tend to avoid Reger, and it takes a Herculean effort to learn this work. However, I earnestly believe that it is a masterpiece of piano literature.”
Last spring, Lanyi was awarded the Prix Serdang, which is given to young pianists at the beginning of their careers who excel in musicianship and artistic vision. The head of the selection panel, Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder, said of Lanyi: “His playing is precise, nuanced and virtuosic, but he is no superficial virtuoso. What sets him apart is his ability to delve deeply into the music and to establish a connection with it. He doesn’t simply play the notes, he lives the music, seeks to capture its essence, and reflects it with extraordinary intensity, sensibility and expressive maturity.”
If one reads Lanyi’s posts and blogs, one gets a hint of the research that he puts into his performances, which have garnered critical acclaim. In addition to the Prix Serdang, Lanyi won third prize at the 2021 Leeds International Piano Competition. Also in 2021, he was a prize winner in the inaugural Young Classical Artists Trust (London, England) and Concert Artists Guild (New York) International Auditions, as well as being a finalist in the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. Other honours for the 26-year-old pianist include first prize at the 2018 Grand Prix Animato Competition in Paris and first prize in the 2017 Dudley International Piano Competition in the United Kingdom.
Born in Jerusalem, Lanyi studied piano at the Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and moved to London in 2015 to study at the Royal Academy of Music. He remained in the city after graduating in 2021. Last month, he was among those selected by the Royal Academy for a 2023-2024 associate honour, which will be conferred in April: the award recognizes former students who have made “significant contributions to the musical landscape.”
Lanyi has performed around the world, both as a soloist on his own and with orchestras, and as a chamber musician. When he plays concertos or chamber music, he said of his preparation, “I always make sure to study the full score, in order to grasp the music from all points of view, not just through the prism of my individual part. When playing alone, obviously, this doesn’t apply.”
Among the highlights listed on Lanyi’s website for this season is the VRS concert next month. In 2021, during COVID, the recital society shared Lanyi’s Virtually VRS recorded performance on its YouTube channel. The March concert will be his live debut in Canada. In addition to the Reger composition, it will feature Beethhoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109; Chopin’s Mazurkas, Op. 59; and Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat major, Op. 61.
“Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 109 is a work that has been in my repertoire for quite awhile,” Lanyi told the Independent. “It was the first of the late Beethoven sonatas I worked on as a teenager, so coming back to it now feels enormously gratifying, as my idea of it has evolved in the years since. (It is also, if I remember correctly, the first work for piano to have ever moved me to tears.) The first two movements are concise and contrasting – from the relative serenity of the first movement to the fearful obsessiveness of the second. The third movement begins and ends with a hymn of gratitude and, in between, we are taken on a comprehensive journey through six distinct variations, each inhabiting its own world, deviating from the theme in the most fascinating ways while retaining the same epicentral connection to it.
“The two Chopin works in this program – the Op. 59 Mazurkas and the Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61 – both stem from the composer’s late period, which is characterized by harmonic and structural exploration we seldom find in his earlier works. The mazurkas are elegant and poignant at the same time – in the midst of mellifluous music, Chopin finds ways to express intense distress with bold, dissonant harmonies, often left exposed. The Polonaise-Fantaisie is among his most symphonic works, I find. He never wrote any symphonies and, in my view, some of the late works make up for that by using the piano orchestrally. In the slow middle section of the Polonaise-Fantaisie, we almost hear a foretelling of Bruckner in the long, interwoven lines, which lead to the most unexpected places.”
Lanyi said he doesn’t have any specific formula for choosing performance repertoire.
“Usually, I have an idea of one or two central works I want to include in a program, and look for works which will complement them in a balanced way,” he said. “In the case of this program, the Reger has been on my mind for many years, so I was looking to combine it with works which aren’t as heavy.”
Lanyi’s March 3 performance takes place at 3 p.m. and is followed by a talkback. For tickets, visit vanrecital.com/concert/ariel-lanyi-2.