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A series of conversations with the Cliburn competitors
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Where he lives now: Moscow
Early music memories: Favorin, 26, started to play piano — and recorder — when he was 5. “My grandmother took me to a small music school in the district where we lived, and the schoolteacher liked my musical abilities,” he says. He switched from recorder to clarinet when he was 8, continued with piano and began to study composition at 12.
On why he doesn’t have a favorite musician: “The planet of music is too rich to choose just one,” he says. But he does have a favorite contemporary pianist: Leif Ove Andsnes, the acclaimed Norwegian pianist who has toured wordwide. “I enjoy thinking that his type of playing is something like what [French literary critic/philosopher] Roland Barthes called ‘Writing degree zero.’ ”
Cliburn dreams: “To meet legendary [conductor] Leonard Slatkin — and some other things [that are] better not to talk about now.”
When he is not practicing piano, he is: Working or resting. “To be serious, it is too simple,” he says. “I’m eating, sleeping, talking, walking, sometimes reading, sometimes watching a movie. And taking care of my hamster.”
Favorite book: Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel about a series of imaginary conversations between Marco Polo and the Chinese leader Kublai Khan in which the explorer describes cities he has visited during his travels.
Favorite movie: Blow-Up, Michelangelo Antonioni’s enigmatic and influential 1966 film about a photographer who believes he may have witnessed a murder while snapping pictures in a London park. Favorin describes Invisible Cities as “incredible,” and Blow-Up as “even more incredible.”
Celebrity (dead or alive) he would most like to meet: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the rock pioneer best known for his 1956 version of I Put a Spell on You — and for hanging out with a flaming skull named Henry. But Favorin says he would just like to hear him scream (alive; Hawkins died in 2000).
Currently in his CD player or iPod: A Love Supreme, John Coltrane’s landmark 1964 jazz album.
His favorite food: Pelmeny, defined on Dictionary.com as “a Siberian dish of small pockets of dough filled with seasoned, minced beef, lamb, or pork and served boiled, fried, or in a soup.” Adds Favorin, “I ate it a lot in my childhood.”
If he could travel back in time, which famous composer would he like to visit and what would be the first question he would ask? Mahler, to ask about his 10th symphony, he says. And Sibelius, to ask him not to destroy the music from his eighth symphony (note: according to Good-Music-Guide.com and other websites, the Finnish composer had worked on his eighth symphony for as long as 20 years before burning the manuscript, although what really happened remains one of the mysteries of 20th-century music).
About the misconceptions people have about classical music: That “classical music” is an easily quantifiable genre like “dubstep” that you can just like or dislike, he says. “This misunderstanding was conceived on music-store shelves and it is really surprising how unbelievably steady it can be.”
Additional sources: Amazon.com, Allmusic.com, Good-Music-Guide.com
14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
• May 24-June 9
• Bass Hall