The Greatest Pianist of Our Time
When I recently got Anton Batagov’s new Bach double-CD that doesn’t contain anything further than the Partitas Nos. 4 and 6 and the figured choral ’Jesus bleibet meine Freude’ I was a bit surprised. I knew Batagov’s magnificent recording of ’Kunst der Fuge’ that does more justice to this magnum opus than any other. But more than one hour for the sixth partita? Even if I attach no importance to such outward appearance – is there something bizarre going on? And can he keep up the tension, can he shape the form as a perceptible whole?
Batagov can. And he overcomes any traditional physical measure. His Bach is even more suspenseful and dense than all his colleague’s attempts if the listener enables himself to leave behind anything he already knows in the moments of intense listening. His performance immediately transcends the material world. The mastery of counterpoint – this means to articulate the individual melodic lines that oppose each other as a living unity in large space – is overwhelming, and at the same time he guides us into a world where rhythm in all its precise clarity is free of any mechanical strictness. It even touches us like an improvisation that is never arbitrary mannerism but thoroughly organically developing one from the other. Almost always Batagov plays the first time in an extremely broad tempo and takes the repetition significantly faster, and, yes, this new contrast works! What can we learn from it? In any case to widen our limits of a material idea how a continuously developing and potentially coherent form can be manifested.
Anton Batagov, born in 1965 and naming Svyatoslav Richter as his musical guiding star, has been a Tchaikovsky competition laureate and has always been a rebel against the commercial music business. He stopped playing in public for twelve years from 1997 to 2009. Today he performs mostly for Russian audiences. His Moscow concert for Philip Glass’ 80th birthday in the 1700-seats Svetlanov Hall was sold out weeks before the event. Whoever discovers him now will not wonder about this exceptional position in a country that impresses the world with Sokolov and Trifonov.
Since Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli there has not been any such complete pianist as Batagov. If we define technique correctly as the ability to reproduce exactly the most simple as well as the complex structures and relationships I don’t know any other pianist today who is on such a level. It is scandalous that our music conservatories are not fighting to engage a ’Professor Batagov’, just as if our scientists wouldn’t have understood the significance of Einstein’s relativity theory.
Anton Batagov is more than just a phenomenal musician. As a composer he goes his way between minimal music, progressive rock succeeding the fantastic King Crimson, Indian and Far-Eastern traditions, and the achievements of Western classical music, developing some of these things further on toward the unknown. His gripping album with the Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo (Thayata. Tibetan Voice Meets Russian Piano; Cantaloupe Music), his benchmark-setting Ravel album ’The New Ravel’ (Arbiter) that paved the way for Brian Eno to classical music, his timeless recordings of Messiaen and Feldman are recently joined by Philip Glass recordings (’Prophecies’ and ’Complete Piano Etudes Live in Moscow’) that in their hypnotizing power and most subtle differentiation of the most delicate details reveal this composer in never seen light. At least in this regard I completely agree with Teodor Currentzis: that Batagov is ”the greatest pianist of our time”. And he is a lot more than that.
Christoph Schlüren, Crescendo magazine
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Forbes: Classical CD Of The Week: Anton Batagov's Bach
It cannot be measured by our experiences with Bach thus far, but only by what it means on its own account. With Batagov, we are not dealing with a Partita anymore. Notes, Suspended in Space. Our patience, our attention span cannot (anymore) absorb that many notes over so long a period of time and still put it into the original context. But with that context broken up, another emerges. What we are left with are just single pieces that now stand on their own, in a transfixing way. The individual movements break down into a string of notes that fall into place subconsciously…Hearing it is like marveling at the individual ingredients – three-dimensional objects – suspended in space. Time stands still. Or it crawls through you with the strange and yet perfectly familiar sounds of Johann Sebastian Bach at the perimeter. The movements, although still containing all the notes in the right order, are broken, refracted, restored: abstracted and revived. More than once I had the aural image of Einstein on the Beach come to mind. (No coincidence, probably, that Batagov has recorded Philip Glass’ Etudes with the composer’s seal of approval.)
Mesmerizing experience. It should fail, by all accounts, but it is held together by a generously sensational pianism; a touch that can keep notes alive long after they have been struck and faded away… Close your eyes, hit play, and allow yourself the trip.
Jens F. Laurson, Forbes
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Anton Batagov's return to the Moscow concert scene was a historic event: it has restored the social significance of music. The hall was jam-packed – people were sitting on window sills and even on stage, standing on the balcony. A lot of people were waiting outside with no chance to get in. One of the listeners compared Batagov's recital to a spiritual practice: hundreds of people were listening to the holder of the truth who has kept silent for a long time.
No one has ever attempted to draw a bridge from Rachmaninoff to the minimalists over the heads of the modernists and the avant-garde.
The performance was truly splendid – with deep sound, like a view from the height of an eagle's flight, when the clarity of the whole makes every detail equally important.
Pyotr Pospelov, Vedomosti
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Batagov performed his Selected Letters of Sergei Rachmaninoff at the Rachmaninoff hall of the Moscow conservatory. This hall has never seen such a huge crowd. The Facebook comments looked like that: "I have realized what music is about!"… "The best music I've ever heard".
Next performance took place at the Moscow International House of music. Those who didn't succeed in getting into the Rachmaninoff hall came there along with a huge army of people who wanted to hear "the best music" once more… Ten minutes to the beginning. At least 500 people are standing outside in the wind attempting to get into the hall. The armed security officers (!) are trying to hold them back. The hall is overpacked.
What a miracle has happened?
The style of Batagov's recitals has nothing to do with the rules of classical concert halls. It's pitch dark in the hall, and it is allowed to sit everywhere, even on stage, on cushions for meditation. However, this atmosphere perfectly suits his mission. He works as a medium: "his" Rachmaninoff writes letters to Philip Glass, Arvo Part, Peter Gabriel, Vladimir Martynov, and other composers. What a complex game! His meditations are quiet and refined, like messages from the subtle world.
It would have been impossible not to play the "pure" Rachmaninoff encore - and he played his tragic Prelude in B minor, op. 32 No.10. Dead silence in the audience. But what kind of audience is it? Looked like many of the listeners have never heard a piano recital before! Strange? You bet. Serious? Yes. Extremely serious.
Is this a musical or a social phenomenon? A fashion or a trend? A riot?
Batagov has somehow managed to bring the atmosphere of confidence back to the classical concert hall. It had been lost long time ago. It's a tremendous victory no one has expected. It's a unique chance for classical music. The next one will not happen again soon.
Natalia Zimyanina, Novaya Gazeta
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The world première of I see your dream, You see my dream for orchestra and piano. An overwhelming sound field of intensive, profound, from the depths of a growing orchestral sound cloud. Starting with just one tone played by piano and two central positioned harps Batagov built up a breathing, interacting, communicative music world where every instrument and musician added its personal sound, rhythm, heartbeat to a common, pure and stable creation.
The Russian pianist and composer Anton Batagov is one of the musicians who prefer to communicate with their listeners not only behind the instrument but also in front of it. He is not afraid to take a microphone and address his audience. He writes his own programme notes, makes his public a part of his world, confides his thoughts with it, shares life lessons and experiences.
Based on the bells and their dynamic range variety, his piano cycle Invisible lands painted four fascinating sound landscapes where every tone was vivid and three-dimensional, eager to form a new harmony or a rhythmic pattern. Distant reverberation, growing radiant and swinging bells waves, deep, peaceful and finally overwhelming chimes, all these bells invited and promised of lands and sounds yet to be discoverd. The sudden stillness was deafening and let all further possibilities open.
Olga De Kort, Bachtrack
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Batagov paints whole worlds on the piano
Time Out New York
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Mr. Batagov is a composer and musician of rare skill and versatility. He has composed music for a surprising number of settings from chamber music to film music, from a computer opera to collaborations with Central Asia Buddhist leaders. Mr.Batagov's works are substantial, well-constructed, and easily accessible.
Anton Batagov spent some time in New York in the early 1990s, but has been in Moscow since then. Even in a musical community as rich and crowded as New York's, Batagov had quickly carvedhis own niche; his return to Russia was our loss. I am delighted at the prospect of this unique musician returning to the United States.
John Schaefer, WNYC
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A surgical precision of his piano touch, deeply sensible sound that blooms in all colors under his fingers… Anton Batagov is a unique composer/performer who cannot be compared to anyone else because he is one of a kind. He is an innovative thinker, a true intellectual, living deep within the creative world.
Elena Dubinets, musicologist
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Zach Carstensen, The Gathering Note
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