Music contains colours; paintings involve tonality. That’s the suggestion of the thoughtful and deeply intelligent Israeli pianist Roman Rabinovich, who is, unusually, also a fine composer and visual artist. Praised by the New York Times for his “uncommon sensitivity and feeling”, he is now in the first rank of rising stars to watch. He is touring Britain this month, and I caught up with him to ask about the relationship of music and art, and much else.
Rabinovich, 32, divides his time between New York and Canada, where his wife, the violinist Diana Cohen, is leader of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Being continually on the move is nothing new for him. Born in Uzbekistan, he emigrated with his parents to Israel aged eight, later going to the US to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and then the Juilliard School of Music. This enviable musical pedigree continued with mentors such as the renowned pianists Sir András Schiff and Richard Goode —“They’re amazing musicians,” says Rabinovich simply.
Both his parents are pianists as well, so he was exposed to music from the start. “Their students would come to our home and I was listening, fascinated with these sounds,” he says. “So I started playing. I didn’t have much choice!” His career launched in earnest in 2008 when he won top prize and four additional awards at the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv.
He started composing very young, almost without realising it. “Like any musical child I would fool around at the piano, improvising and playing games with it,” he says. “I’ve always loved improvising and creating my own music. I was lucky to have a wonderful teacher who opened my curiosity to music theory, harmony, counterpoint and so on, so that part was always there from an early age.”
Meanwhile, he was “doodling” from the start, too — and now regards music and art as intimately related, though satisfyingly contrasted. “If you look at paintings there are tonalities in the colours and the way they blend,” he says. “There’s a harmony. In terms of structure and form, there are definitely parallels.
“What is different is the idea of time. With painting you can let your eye wander from one point to another for as long as you want. But music happens in real time: you have to be really present, and when it’s gone it’s gone! And that’s of course the beauty of it.”
Besides music by Haydn, Rachmaninov and Chopin, Rabinovich’s recital at London’s Wigmore Hall involves a composition of his own, a suite of six evocative pieces entitled Memory Box. He has created a series of 20 oil paintings alongside it. Each piece takes inspiration from a different source, including Stefan Zweig’s novel Impatience of the Heart. “I was really taken by the book — it was very moving and extremely emotional — and I felt there was a connection between this music and what I read,” he says.
The suite explores the unconscious world of fantasies, dreams and memories: “It’s in all of us and every person will hopefully connect their own experiences with this piece,” he says. “I don’t want them to take my experiences.”
Meanwhile, although his impressive career is accelerating, Rabinovich still aims to visit his family in Israel three or four times a year. “I’m not religious,” he says, “but I love the holidays: getting together with friends and family for Rosh Hashanah or Passover.”
Catch him if you can.
Roman Rabinovich will perform Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Sir Roger Norrington at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on 20 October and the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, on 21 October. www.romanrabinovich.net