NEW YORK – Critically acclaimed international concert pianist Vassilis Varvaresos dazzled the audience in an impressive concert on Thursday, November 16 at the Kaufman Music Center’s Merkin Concert Hall in New York City.
Presented by the Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation (HACF) with the support of the Onassis Foundation USA, the concert featured six works played skillfully by Varvaresos who is one of the most talented pianists of his generation as Nicholas Kourides, HACF Chairman, noted in his welcoming remarks at the concert.
Kourides thanked all those in attendance including His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios who like Varvaresos hails from Thessaloniki, and the Onassis Foundation for its continuing support of HACF events. The concert was the fifth since 2012, he pointed out, adding that the concerts have become a part of the fabric of New York events each year.
About 800 people signed up for the event, but the number of attendees had to be capped at 449 people, limited by the Fire Department, Kourides said. He also noted that Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras could not attend the concert due to the three-day mourning period after the deadly floods in Greece this week. Robert Shaw, HACF Vice Chairman, introduced Varvaresos, noting his many achievements.
Varvaresos earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at the renowned Juilliard. Varvaresos is the laureate of both the George Enescu International Competition 2014 in Bucharest and the Piano Masters Competition 2015 in Monte Carlo. Winner of the coveted Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York, he has appeared in virtually all major stages in the United States, including New York’s Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall, Washington’s Kennedy Center and Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. He has appeared in such prestigious European halls as Zurich’s Tonhalle, Vienna’s Musikverein, Paris’ Salle Gaveau, and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw amongst others. Following his debut recital at Carnegie Zankel Hall, Varvaresos was invited to perform at the White House for President Barack Obama.
Varvaresos stepped out onstage and offered his own introduction to the concert program noting that the first piece, Robert Schumann’s Fasschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26, is a work about dance, carnival, and exuberance. Schumann, Varvaresos explained was inspired by an E.T.A. Hoffmann story, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, which is a satiric novel in the guise of an autobiography written by a cat. The cat’s story is mixed and spliced with a book about the composer Johannes Kreisler, so the two stories break off and alternate at dramatic moments. Varvaresos noted how the different movements of the Schumann piece also break off and alternate at dramatic moments leading up to the exuberant finale.
The second piece, Piano Suite No. 1 by Greek composer Simos Papanas, also from Thessaloniki, was commissioned by Varvaresos who asked Papanas to write him a solo piece and said “it should be difficult.” Varvaresos called Papanas “one of the most talented composers today” for his “distinct voice.” The piece allowed Varvaresos to show his versatility as an artist, playing the challenging modern work dynamically.
After a brief intermission, the concert continued with Soiree de Vienne No. 7 by Schubert and Liszt, the Mephisto Waltz by Franz Liszt, Valse, Op. 38 by Alexander Scriabin, and La Valse by Maurice Ravel. Varvaresos noted that the second half of the concert was entirely dedicated to waltzes because, “It’s a program I really, really like.” The second half demonstrated the progression of the waltz over time from the height of its popularity via 19th century “superstar” Liszt, leading up to Ravel’s waltz which Varvaresos called the “apotheosis of the waltz and its destruction.” He pointed out that it had been commissioned for a dance but Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes, hated it, so Ravel’s waltz was never danced. Of the waltzes Varvaresos said, “I hope you will enjoy the journey as much as I will.”
At the conclusion of the performance, the enthusiastic audience gave Varvaresos three standing ovations urging him back to the piano for an encore. He then performed a paraphrase of Star Wars, noting how Liszt often performed paraphrases of operas much to the audience’s delight. The piece based on Star Wars, Varvaresos told the audience, is actually 17 minutes long, but he played only an excerpt which included all the familiar themes from the film score. Varvaresos managed to capture the spirit of the beloved film and its music in the excerpt which impressed and entertained the audience and inspired another standing ovation.
Among those present at the concert were Marilena Christodoulou- HACF Board of Directors, Dr. Miranda Kofinas, Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos, Deacon Eleftherios Constantine, Fr. John Vlahos and his wife Presvytera Tina, George and Katherine Boulukos, and many members of the community. The concert and the reception that followed were free of charge, which, Kourides noted, is something the HACF continues to do through the support of contributions. More information about HACF is available online at: www.hacfoundation.org. More information about Vassilis Varvaresos is available on his website: www.varvaresos.com.
Pianist Vassilis Varvaresos. Photo: HACF