Behzod Abduraimov Performs Prokofiev’s Epic Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Kansas City Symphony

Pianist Behzod Abduraimov (photo by Evgeny Eutykhov)

The Thanksgiving weekend concert, with fellow Uzbek Aziz Shokhakimov as gust conductor, is the lauded pianist’s fourth appearance with KCS

To keep up with the career of pianist Behzod Abduraimov, you need to be fluent in multiple languages. Since his ascension to the world stage at the age of 18 as the winner of the London International Piano Competition in 2009, his career has taken him around the globe, garnering glowing reviews in Russian, Korean, French and Italian this year alone.

His performances are lauded not only for their dexterity, but their intensity and sensitivity.

And though he’s originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, he still considers Kansas City his second hometown, where he arrived at the age of 16 to study with Stanislav Ioudenitch at Park University’s International Center for Music.

Abduraimov makes his fourth appearance with the Kansas City Symphony this November, performing Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

“It was always a big dream to play it,” said Abduraimov. “For me it is the most epic piano work ever written.”

While he’d known about the work since he was a child, it was only last year that he first performed the piece professionally. It is one of the most technically challenging pieces in the repertoire.

Adburaimov describes it as “out of this world.”

KCS guest conductor Aziz Shokhakimov (photo by Iliya Kononov)

“Even though (Prokofiev’s Concerto) was written 100 years ago, it sounds so modern and so present. We live in turbulent times. In a way, it kind of depicts what’s happening now, in the world.”

Behzod Abduraimov

Not every pianist tackles this concerto — even Prokofiev himself sometimes had issues performing what his biographer David Nice called “his most taxing vehicle.”

In fact, it’s been nearly 30 years since the Kansas City Symphony has programmed the work — another reason why Abduraimov wanted to share it with his hometown audience.

“Even though it was written 100 years ago, it sounds so modern and so present. We live in turbulent times. In a way, it kind of depicts what’s happening now, in the world.”

Turbulent times, indeed, not unlike the era in which it was written. The concerto was written in 1912, but the score was burned in a fire, following the Russian Revolution. Prokofiev reconstructed it more than a decade later, though the new version was different from the original.

Abduraimov is joined in this performance by KCS guest conductor Aziz Shokhakimov. Shokhakimov is a fellow Uzbek, just a couple years older than Abduraimov. They both attended the Uspensky Music School in Tashkent and have shared friends, some of whom recently or currently attend ICM.

Shokhakimov has experienced a similarly meteoric career trajectory, conducting professional ensembles since he was 13 years old. He won second place in the Gustav Mahler International Conducting Competition in 2010 and won the Herbert von Karajan Young Conductors Award at the Salzburg Festival 2016. In 2010, he was appointed assistant conductor for the National Symphony of Uzbekistan, then appointed principal conductor in 2016. He has served as artistic director to the Tekfen Philharmonic Orchestra in Turkey since 2017 and became music director for France’s Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg in September 2021.

In the upcoming performance, Shokhakimov makes his Kansas City debut. Abduraimov is looking forward to performing with his friend and compatriot. “It’s always a pleasure to see him and to work with him, and I’m excited that he is coming to Kansas City so I can show him around,” said Abduraimov. “I can take him to our great barbeque and show our lovely town.”

Throughout the last year, they’ve collaborated several times, including performances with the Swedish Radio Orchestra, Orchestre de la Suiss Romande, and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

Abduraimov is also looking forward to performing again with the symphony. “Every time I play with them, they reach new musical heights, and that always gives excitement and inspiration for me.”

The program also includes Bedřich Smetana’s overture to “The Bartered Bride” and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8.

Despite his international touring schedule, Abduraimov maintains his relationship with both Park University, as artist-in-residence with ICM, and Ioudenitch.

“Whenever I learn a new piece, I always play it for Stanislav, because he is the only person who knows me so well professionally and I trust him 100%. His advice is always very precious to me,” said Abduraimov. “He is not just a teacher. He is a great mentor, friend, brother, you name it, I’m really happy to have him in my life.”

That warmth extends to his Kansas City fans.

“To play at home, it gives you even more excitement but in a way even more responsibility,” he said. “Not pressure but responsibility, so I am looking forward to yet again sharing music with my beloved audience there.”

Behzod Abduraimov performs with the Kansas City Symphony, conducted by Aziz Shokhakimov, Nov. 25-27, at the Kauffman Center. For more information and tickets, visit kcsymphony.org.

Libby Hanssen

Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She maintains the culture blog, “Proust Eats a Sandwich,” and writes poetry and children’s books. She holds a master’s degree in trombone performance from UMKC Conservatory and currently works at UMKC’s Music/Media Library.

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