Ignat Solzhenitsyn returns to Brattleboro for a special concert

Famed pianist will reunite with the BMC teacher who instructed him as a child

BRATTLEBORO — A teacher can make all the difference between mediocre and exceptional. Ignat Solzhenitsyn knows this well.

In honor of his former teacher, Mrs. Chonghyo Shin, Solzhenitsyn will perform in a special benefit concert on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m., in the new Brattleboro Music Center's facility.

When 9-year-old Solzhenitsyn first met Shin at the Brattleboro Music Center for lessons, he had only a little above an elementary skill level on the piano but had tons of desire to learn. Shin, who is known for making the impossible happen, knew just how to teach him, and Solzhenitsyn had the drive and the talent to absorb all that Shin gave him, and then some. He wanted to be a pianist.

Today Solzhenitsyn is not only recognized as a gifted pianist, he is Principal Guest Conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Conductor Laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, and he is much in demand as a guest conductor having been on extensive tours throughout the United States and Europe and continents beyond.

A winner of the Avery Fisher Career Grant, Solzhenitsyn serves on the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Tanglewood Music Center. He has been featured on many radio and television specials, including CBS Sunday Morning and ABC's Nightline.

Born in Russia, Ignat Solzhenitsyn is the son of Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian author and historian who was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism. Expelled from Russia in 1974 and fearing for his life, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn moved his family to the quiet town of Cavendish in Vermont where they could live their lives out of the public's eye.

With little access to music lessons as in cities, Ignat Solzhenitsyn's early music training consisted only of some tutoring on the piano in the house. It wasn't until a family friend and Solzhenitsyn's godfather, renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich heard him play that the young Solzhenitsyn 's potential was recognized. Rostropovich connected him with Marlboro Music School and Festival cofounder Rudolph Serkin for classes under Marlboro College faculty member Luis Battle.

Battle, who was better adapted to teaching more advanced students, knew Shin would be a better suited for Solzhenitsyn.

Shin said that in Solzhenitsyn's first class she had given him an assignment of 10 short pieces to learn. He, however, wasn't satisfied with just 10, he asked for more. Shin gave him five more pieces. Solzhenitsyn returned to class the next week having learned each piece. He continued to eat up lessons she gave him.

By the age of 10, he was able to do a recital with Serkin. By the age of 11 he was in in concert with Ron Eastes and the Windham Orchestra.

"I did what was necessary to make him better. He was a fantastic student," Shin said, "and very special. Each time I helped him solve a problem with something he was having trouble learning he would thank me. I did what I do with any student."

She reminisced how Solzhenitsyn would play a piece and stop and say, "Isn't that a beautiful harmony?"

"Children don't often recognize harmonies," she said, "but his mental capacity could see that."

After three years under Shin, he was sent back to Battle for further instruction. Solzhenitsyn went on to study under Maria Curcio Diamand, one of the great piano teachers.

Shin is not only proud of her former student, she sees a parallel in their paths, she also began studying piano later than most. Originally from Nota Korea, she didn't have access to good teachers or pianos as a child. Accepting a scholarship to Lasell College in Massachusetts, she wasn't planning on learning the piano until she heard Arthur Rubinstein in concert.

"I realized how beautiful the music could be. It was like being struck by lightning. So I devoted my life to playing and teaching piano."

She is still close to Solzhenitsyn. She taught his three children.

"I am grateful to God that he sent him to me and feel wonderful that I had a part of his development," Shin said.

Solzhenitsyn has acknowledged to Shin how lucky he was to have had such great teachers.

Solzhenitsyn's program will include selections from Shostakovich 24 Preludes and Fugues (first half) and Schubert B-flat Sonata D.960 (second half) It is part of the BMC's 2017-18 Chamber Series.

The benefit concert is also in support of the Brattleboro Music School. BMC's new facility is located at 72 Blanche Moyse Way (across from the Living Memorial Park on Guilford St.). For tickets contact 802-257-4523 or visit bmcvt.org.

Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext, 261


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