by Mike Telin

Francois-ArsenyClevelandClassical had the opportunity to interview all four CIPC finalists in pairs on Thursday in Reinberger Chamber Hall at Severance Hall before the final rounds on Friday and Saturday. We talked first with 28-year-old François Dumont from France and 20-year-old Arseny Tarasevich-Nikolaev from Russia. Though they had never met before coming to Cleveland, they sounded like long-time friends during our wide-ranging conversation that covered such topics as family background, how they decided on careers in music, their concerto choices and experiences during the Cleveland Competition and where they’re headed next. And of course we talked about food — always a prime topic among musicians.

Both pianists encountered music at an early age. “I don’t come from a musical family,” François noted, “but they always loved music and brought me to concerts and there was always a lot of classical music in the house.” Arseny, on the other hand, has some distinguished performers in his family tree. “We always had a lot of recordings in the house so I listened to them since I was two years old and I just loved it,” he told us. “So around four years old my mom started to teach me in a playful way.”

When did they decide to make the piano their career? “I never really thought about doing anything else,” Arseny said, “though there was a short period when I thought I should choose something different.” For François, that moment crept up on him. “It’s not like you wake up one day and say OK, this is going to be my job. It’s not like you choose it, it chooses you in a way. The choice is that you have to be dedicated to it.” Arseny agreed. “You have to love it and be on fire with it.”

Both pianists passed through first, second and semi-final rounds to get their shot at the concerto final. Interestingly enough, both chose to play Ravel’s thorny Gaspard de la Nuit in their hour-long semi-final performance. “I think it’s one of the greatest pieces of all time,” Arseny said. “I always like to play music of French composers and it has been one of my favorite pieces since childhood.” His French colleague agrees. “It’s not only a masterpiece for Ravel but for all of the piano literature,” François said. “I have been quite dedicated to Ravel recently because I have recorded all of his piano music.”

After that round, the suspense of waiting to hear from the jury began, at least for Arseny. “I had an entire day to wait,” he said, laughing. “I would say that nothing big was going through my mind because as Americans put it, you’ve done your job. So I tried not to think about it, but of course sometimes it is difficult. I tried to concentrate on practicing or reading a book, or watching a movie. So no, I didn’t think much.” François, the last contestant to play, didn’t have to cool his heels for long. “I had only ten or fifteen minutes — I was lucky that way because I didn’t have long to wait. But for the finals it will be the opposite – I will have to wait for a day”.

On Friday evening, August 9, François and Arseny will play the first final round of concertos with Stefan Sanderling and The Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall. They’ve chosen concertos by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. “Tchaikovsky’s first concerto is one of the greatest,” François said. “I love this piece so much! I’ve played it five times.” Arseny is just as enthusiastic about Rachmaninoff’s second concerto, portions of which he has played many times before but the entire piece only once. “It’s the same, it is one of the greatest concertos. It has an absolutely amazing spirit.”

Both concertos are very popular with audiences and they agree that with that comes responsibility to play their best. That process was to begin later on Thursday when each would meet with conductor Stefan Sanderling before Friday’s rehearsals with the orchestra. What would they discuss with Sanderling? “The most important thing is tempo,” François said. “You have to agree on the tempo. It is very important to meet the conductor before you meet the orchestra. You create a dialogue and you are already in agreement [about many things] before you get in front of the orchestra.” “I agree,” said Arseny, “and we don’t have a lot of [rehearsal time], just one hour and five minutes. But yes, [Sanderling] and I will go over the most difficult places regarding ensemble.” But neither is worried about things coming together; they agree that The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the best in the world.

Both pianists will both try to relax as much as possible on Saturday after playing their concertos and while waiting for the final verdict from the jury. How will they relax? They both agree that sleeping is a good thing. Watching a movie is also a good way to relax and François Dumont is a big fan of John Malkovich. And both pianists like to listen to other kinds of music, especially jazz. “Jazz, popular and folk music, Tango and Fado — I like it all,” Arseny says. “My wife is Irish and I also like Celtic music very much,” François adds, noting that Tchaikovsky used folk and popular songs from Ukraine in the first concerto. Both also admit to having a taste for Italian food — and Little Italy is close at hand.

Once the prizes have been awarded, François Dumont and Arseny Tarasevich-Nikolaev will resume their busy careers as concert artists. François is headed to Belfast and Sardinia to give concerts, and after spending three days in Moscow, Arseny will be off again to play at a festival in Macedonia.

Listen to the entire interview here.

Published on August 9, 2013

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