by Stephanie Murphy-Lupo
Originally published in Florida Weekly in the January 22-28 on the front page Art & Entertainment section.
You may have heard pianists known to tickle or tease the ivories. Charming the black-and-whites is another talent, entrancing the audience as the artist bends the keys to his will, forges an electric pause, then invites the very air to breathe
Less-often mentioned among such adroit abilities is the leap-frogging and see-sawing an international virtuoso manages -- to perform, teach and inspire.
Alexander Beridze is all that.
Born in Tbilisi, in what is now the Republic of Georgia, the brilliant young musician won the Gold Medal at the 53rd World Piano Competition in 2009 -- at age 29. He made his New York recital debut in April 2011 at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall.
Among the New Yorkers and Palm Beachers who summer in Aspen, Dale Coudert first heard Mr. Beridze play there at a music festival. She immediately booked him to perform in Palm Beach for her non-profit think-tank, The Coudert Institute.
Which is how a recital at the Royal Poinciana Chapel prompted an inspired patron to tell Mr. Beridze he deserved to be onstage at Carnegie Hall.
And he was, all that.
On Nov. 12, 2014, the Coudert Institute presented Mr. Beridze in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. The artist dedicated the evening to the memory of his mother, Manana Begiashvili. The recital patrons were Mary and Irwin Ackerman. Barbara and Gerald Hines underwrote a post-recital reception at The Russian Tea Room.
The New York Foundation for the Arts got involved in coordinating the event, through Richard Kaplan and his wife, artist Edwina Sandys, early members of the Coudert Institute. Princess Diana Bagrationi and her foundation promoted the event on TV and radio in Russia.
Rewind to a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. A young and very promising Russian pianist, Vladimir Feltsman -- after waiting a decade for a visa -- was able to perform in the United States. In his debut at Carnegie Hall in November 1987, he performed a program which included works by Beethoven and Schumann.
Fast forward 27 years, when Mr. Feltsman's protégé, Mr. Beridze, performed at Carnegie Hall, including works by Beethoven and Schumann. Eager applause for all of it, and a standing ovation for his encore, Liszt-Busoni's La Campanella.
Forward again to Feb. 12, 2015, when Mr. Beridze will return to Palm Beach, to perform for the Coudert Institute. The evening program will take place at a private home.
In addition to the Coudert event, Mr. Beridze will give a recital March 4 at the Fisher Island Club. And he will perform on Saturday, March 14, at 7 p.m. in the Florida Atlantic University Theatre in Boca Raton.
In vast understatement, Mr. Beridze took a highly unlikely path to navigate the road less-traveled. Not only was he not a child prodigy -- no one in his family had a career in music. Playing guitar and accordion was a pastime -- like singing -- something one did at home with relatives.
Ms. Begiashvili was a journalist who taught her bright son how to write articles:
"My mother made installments to purchase an upright piano when she received her first salary. That was the piano I began to learn to play," Mr. Beridze said recently. Even so, "No one in my family expected that I would choose music as my profession. It did not sound promising and serious in a post-war country with many problems."
As his "back-up plan," he studied at Tbilisi State University and received his doctorate in journalism in 2006. As a correspondent for Kviris Palitra, a weekly Georgian newspaper, Mr. Beridze wrote more than 500 articles on music. His interview subjects included Mstislav Rostropovich, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Yuri Bashmet, and Maxim Vengerov.
"It's funny, but journalism made me become a musician. As a journalist, I was able to access backstage and meet every famous musician who visited Tbilisi. Listening to them (in concert) and interviewing them afterwards made an extremely strong impression on me."
In many respects, Mr. Beridze's recital at Carnegie Hall illustrates a concept which Ms. Coudert tried out on friends and acquaintances in Palm Beach in 2001. A pioneer in women's banking in New York -- and a dabbler in real estate -- she acted on the sanguine belief that people enjoy talking about ideas and beliefs; that they happily engage in forums about the temporal, the spiritual and the cultural elements of the world we have, and the one we might wish for.
She and a few friends founded the Coudert Institute to explore ideas, trends and of-the-moment expressions in contemporary society. She made overtures to many of the best scholarly, scientific and creative minds available, and hosted presentations for members and guests.
"The dynamic of discourse is key; not just being passive while someone else teaches or entertains," Ms. Coudert said. "We encourage commentary. So at parties, people discuss ideas, not just their golf game or the stock market."
Culture was the Institute's "wallpaper" from the beginning, as many programs included receptions in the courtyard of an historic work of art -- Villa dei Fiori. Designed in1919 by Addison Mizner, its majestic backdrop became a blank canvas for stirring dialogue about music, art, literature and social dimensions.
Ms. Coudert considers the Institute's pinnacle achievement to be Mr. Beridze's recital at Carnegie Hall. And it came to pass as precisely as serendipity can accommodate:
"You meet someone, have a conversation, and things happen from there. That's how (Irwin Ackerman) first heard Alexander play in Palm Beach. How he made a point of taking it to another level," she said.
Fans and patrons appear in many forms. Mr. Feltsman invited Beridze to the United States to study with him at the Mannes School of Music, after he won the 2004 Jacob Flier International Piano Competition.
In 2009, Mr. Beridze founded the New York Piano Festival. As artistic director, he organizes an international concert series, master classes, and students' concerts across New York City. He has been an artist in residence at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Texas; and is on the faculty of The Center for Musical Excellence USA.
Somewhat bemused that people occasionally mistake his heritage as Russian, he points out that he was 9 years old when the Republic of Georgia separated from the former Soviet Union:
"I have never been to Russia in my life ... we are two separate countries, with separate languages and alphabets," he said.
"An exceptional pianist" is the way Mr. Beridze has been described in American Record Guide, a venerable source for classical music reviews. Many critics laud his insight, eloquence and sensitivity; while others bow before his dazzling precision. About his performance at Alice Tully Hall:
"Brilliant, superb and simply electrifying."
"A splendid one that passed by almost too quickly."
For New York Concert Review, Rorianne Schrade commented: "If anyone still had questions about Mr. Beridze being a fabulous pianist, his Petrushka settled the matter conclusively. This work, a monstrous beast to most pianists, seemed simply a play toy to him, albeit a musical and imaginative play toy. One sensed the pianist having fun with it, delighting in the ballet’s characters and celebrating what was a brilliant finale to a superb recital. Bravo!" (for videos of some performances, see www.alexanderberidze.com).
Just as ordained, cultural highlights peppered the Institute's first 13 seasons:
In spring 2014, composer Ben Moore and librettist Nahma Sandrow presented the back-story on their creation of a new American opera, Enemies, A Love Story (inspired by Isaac Bashevis Singer's 1966 novel). Palm Beach Opera will present the world premiere in February. The same season, violinist Junko Ohtsu and pianist Tao Lin performed selections for the theme, "Fantasy and Dreams." Earlier, William Cathers, consultant to The Aspen Institute, presented “Animal Spirits -- From Fear to Confidence," a multimedia examination of the ideas, music and art born of The Great Depression; and their impact on the American public. "The Pricing of Art" was in the wheelhouse of Don Thompson, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, and author of The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. A program on the art of Edwina Sandys took place at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens. The British-born artist, granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, engages followers with the lighthearted, the profound, the playful and the provocative. And author Anthony Rudel (Hello, Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio) led a discussion on the cultural, political and economic arena when "the dial" was new media.
Themed programs have drawn scholars, scientists, inventors, technology innovators, economists, shareholder advocates, educators, researchers, analysts, foreign policy experts, journalists, retired military decision-makers, and diplomats. In short, the best minds, offering insight on a world shaped at warp speed.
"Our aim remains the same: to elevate one's thinking ... to engage people who are bright and have influence in their sphere. People with different values, not a like-minded group. Talking about critical, even controversial topics," Ms. Coudert said.
Reprinted with permission of Florida Weekly and Stephanie Murphy-Lupo.