Former Russian prodigy preps for piano series

Dr. Alexander Tutunov, Southern Oregon University’s Professor of Piano and Artist in Residence, is now preparing for his Tutunov Piano Series beginning Oct. 11. The Series features seven internationally acclaimed virtuoso pianists.

At age 6, Tutunov was recognized as a prodigy by the Russian government and was enrolled to study piano in the Music School of the Moscow Conservatory. We visited in the Music Building on the SOU Campus.

AT: That boarding school was a fantastic place. We were all freaks of nature, but we didn’t know that, so we didn’t develop an ego or an inferiority complex. Our favorite pastimes were to read through an opera, or play duets with each other, or sing. And it was instilled in us that having talent plus superb training goes with a responsibility: that we’ve got to share. That’s how I see my mission now, and I do my best.

It’s interesting, seeing the music I worked on decades ago and how it evolved. Just like any relationship: You see your old friends differently. It’s pretty exhilarating. I develop a personal relationship with each measure in music and try to see where it’s going. I don’t have a set interpretation. I take the cues and clues from the audience, and we bond. There’s something about the live performances, being in the moment. With now-a-day technology it can be captured on tape. I love those live recordings.

EH: How is music different from the other arts?

AT: It’s nonverbal. It exists in time, essentially to remind us about the fleeting moment. It appeals to inner emotions in a special way. I think that’s the unique quality: It appeals to emotions to make one better and the world better. Goethe said, “Music begins where words end.” That’s profound.

I see music as a healing tool, which is little studied, and could be a great area to explore. There’s music therapy, but that’s just scratching the surface. I have had students with severe autism, who were brilliant: The way to communicate and the way to monitor the progress had to change, but I think that we were equally passionate about the music. Music has something that makes people better. It calms people down, heals depressions.

EH: What are your thoughts on jazz?

AT: Jazz was a forbidden fruit in Russia, so there was a lot of interest because of that. Jazz has something that is very attractive to me. It’s these spicy sonorities; harmonies; something with the rhythm that they can stretch to the extreme; and there’s a lot of skill that goes into it. You can have a cerebral approach; you can have a very emotional approach; the best is combined, of course. Jazz is vast. It’s a really powerful and difficult skill to obtain and master.

EH: How can you judge musical quality?

AT: Music is very subjective. How do you decide which chocolate is the best? It looks good, but it’s the taste. With music, it’s very much the same.

You can measure music by the number of people who leave the concert inspired. And that’s where I see my mission and the mission of people who come and play music for us. I do my part to bring great music here. Since there are such great offerings of talent in my field, why not start a concert series?

EH: What do you think of the sound in the SOU Music Recital Hall?

AT: It’s one of the best places I’ve ever played in my life.



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