The international concert artist Jacopo Giacopuzzi was born in Italy, tours a lot in China and Japan, and lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. What's more, he knows his way around Maui. "Every morning at sunrise I go surfing," he said. "Then I come home and start rehearsals." So far, each of his island visits has involved some professional engagement. Giacopuzzi made his debut here in 2015 in a one-keyboard, six-hand piano extravaganza put on by the barnstorming Three Gentlemen From Verona (which happens to be his hometown). He has returned since in a more sober guise to play masterpieces of Beethoven and Schumann, sometimes with local musicians, sometimes with fellow guests.
On Thursday, Giacopuzzi will be heard in "Russian Reflections," kicking off thenew ProArts Classical Series at the ProArts Playhouse. This time his partner is the cellist Georgy Gusev, a graduate of the leading conservatories of Moscow and Rome. Gusev has never been here before. "I've heard a lot about the culture and history of Hawaii," Gusev said by phone from Los Angeles. "But I try not to form any concrete expectations. I travel a lot, and I've found out that expectations never help you enjoy what you actually discover."
Applied to the concert hall, that philosophy makes a great case against program notes. Even so, listeners might like to have an idea of what they're in for.
"Russian Reflections" juxtaposes two substantial chamber works, about a half-hour each, by the two pre-eminent composers of the Soviet era. Dmitri Shostakovich's early Cello Sonata in D minor, Op. 40, dates to 1934, the year that began with premieres of his "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Moscow. Chockablock with sex and violence, the opera was a roaring success — until Joseph Stalin took a look. "Bourgeois and decadent," was the verdict from on high — words that could cost a man not only his livelihood, but also his freedom, even his life.
The second piece is the Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 119, by Sergei Prokofiev, written for the young powerhouse Mstislav Rostropovich in 1949, near the end of the composer's life. Party control of artistic activity at this point was more entrenched than ever. The piece could not be performed in public without clearance from not one, but two tiers of Soviet officials. As Sviatoslav Richter, the titan among pianists who joined Rostropovich for the premiere of the sonatas, put it in his memoir, they "needed to work out whether Prokofiev had produced a new masterpiece or, conversely, a piece that was 'hostile to the spirit of the people.'"
Maybe because he comes from Russia, Gusev is deeply attuned to the historic context. "The first half of the 20th century wasn't like in the classical period, when composers were trying to express beauty and harmony. It was a time of disharmony," he said. "Composers suffered a lot, and you can hear it in their music. There's sarcasm there but it's not always necessarily negative. "In my country we had drama on a scale we can hardly imagine: revolution, war, repression, all in the space of 30 years. And yet, even in times like that, people try to live and enjoy life and have families and enjoy art."
Sheer musical appeal — that's the aspect that seems to loom largest for Giacopuzzi. "It's a nice program," he said. "The composers are both Russian and the music is very entertaining. The Shostakovich is full of irony. The Prokofiev has beautiful melodies. It's easy on the ears, almost like a movie soundtrack."
Newly refurbished baby grand piano gets a spin
A new space for chamber music in Kihei — that's cause for celebration. Of all the classical genres, chamber music is the most various, the most portable, the most flexible and prismatic. It requires no palatial infrastructure, no armies of performers. From medieval to contemporary, for novices and virtuosos in just about any constellation, one-off to lifelong, it offers no end of temptations: trifles, profundities, intimate confessions, epic frescoes. How closely players listen to each other counts as much as how brilliantly they play.
The ProArts series is made possible by the acquisition of a concert-worthy piano: a Kawai baby grand refurbished by Ruth Murata of the Maui Music Conservatory, purchased through the offices of Jeff Alfriend, a prominent force in Maui's classical music circles, with funding from Vicki Gumm on behalf of the Kling Family Foundation.
In case a baby grand (approximately 5 feet in length) seems an insufficient vehicle for scores typically executed on a concert grand (9 feet and over), remember the scale of the ProArts Playhouse with its 104 seats — and its tag line, "Little theater ... big talent."
As the first to give the ProArts Kawai a spin, Jacopo Giacopuzzi has this to say: "Mmmm. Size doesn't matter."