Sergei Saratovsky sits down at the piano to perform the next concert in the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s 2015-16 season.

Sergei Saratovsky sits down at the piano to perform the next concert in the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s 2015-16 season.

Russian pianist finds his ‘keys’ in Canada

Sergei Saratovsky to give the North Okanagan Community Concert Association's old piano a workout when he performs in Vernon Feb. 21.

It will be one of the last performances on its well-worn keys.

The North Okanagan Community Concert Association (NOCCA) is welcoming one of the country’s most respected pianists back to the bench of its 1887 nine-foot Hamburg Steinway concert grand piano before it is replaced in the fall with the recently purchased 1978 Hamburg Steinway, currently being restored in White Rock.

It was three years ago that Russian-born pianist Sergei Saratovsky performed in Vernon when he was booked as a last minute replacement for Ruston Vuori, who had to cancel his performance with the NOCCA due to health reasons.

“It’s a wonderful piano,” said Saratovsky on the phone from his Vancouver home. “I remember the warm hospitality I received from the concert association and the great welcoming people both on the stage and off. I also remember the nice hall.”

Saratovsky is referring to the Performing Arts Centre, where he will perform Feb. 21.

Saratovsky will perform a program that includes some of the greatest composers for piano: Scarlotti, Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

“Even with the popular composers, not all their music is what you would consider crowd pleasers,” said Saratovsky. “There are the waltzes and some joyous works here, but there are also some serious sonatas by Liszt. His Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata is based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. It is about death and resurrection.”

Saratovsky has spent the last 14 years in Canada.

Born to a family of musicians in his native Russia, Saratovsky came to Canada to study for his master’s in piano performance at  Brandon University in Manitoba.

“When I arrived in Brandon, it was a similar landscape to my home with the snow and it was minus 30 degrees, which was no problem. (However,) the culture was very different,” he said. “Luckily I knew some English and I have had an advantage to communicate through the piano.

“I always give comments between my pieces, even if my speech isn’t great.”

In 2012, Saratovsky completed his education at the University of British Columbia, where he studied with Jane Coop, receiving his doctorate in music studies.

“This is an excellent country, but there are some financial problems and art is not as supported. It’s good that there are many volunteers and many communities have concert societies,” he said.

“In Russia, although there is a long history of varied arts and culture, over 1,000 years, most of it is contained in the big cities – the museums, the orchestra and ballet. The city the size of say Kelowna wouldn’t have anything.”

Luckily, in Saratovsky’s hometown of Karelia, which is located near the Finland border and has a population of approximately 300,000 people, there was the  Petrozavodsk State Glazunov Conservatory, where Saratovsky first graduated with a bachelor of music in piano performance.

Recognized for his musical achievement, he received an award from Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The pianist, who has received many other awards since, returns to his homeland annually, and brought his Russian-born wife to live in Canada a year and a half ago.

Saratovsky also performs in a four-hand piano duo with his younger brother, Nikolai, who is based in Moscow. The brothers performed together in Russia and embarked on a tour of B.C. last year.

“Not every home has two pianos, and it’s hard to  find two pianos with the same quality tuning, so we thought we’d play on one,” explained Saratovsky.

In addition to his performing career, Saratovsky is an instructor and in September started teaching at the Vancouver Symphony School of Music.

“I used to give master classes there and now I am teaching two-to-three days a week.  I make sure teaching doesn’t overwhelm my own playing,” he said.

While in the Okanagan, Saratovsky will give private lessons to some music lovers in Vernon, and will also conduct master classes at the Kelowna Community Music School.

“I pass what I’ve learned to my students and I also learn from them, such as new repertoire. It’s two sides of the coin,” he said.

“Music is an art. It’s not just about technique or about playing fast and loud. It’s not about winning a competition or a diploma. There’s the intellectual side, the performance and the research on the composer. You can’t interpret the piece without really knowing it. Fifty per cent of my goal is to get a deeper understanding of the art and life of a piece.”

That will be heard when Saratovsky gives life to the old Steinway when he performs for the North Okanagan Community Concert Association, Sunday, Feb. 21 at 2 p.m.

Single concert tickets and pro-rated season tickets can be purchased at the Ticket Seller box office. Call 250-549-7469 or visit www.ticketseller.ca.