Anna Geniushene, piano

Hayes Piano Series

Hayes Piano Series

Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Silver Medalist (2022) Anna Geniushene brings powerful sound, technical precision, emotional depth, yet a notably carefree ease belying the immense difficulty of her programs. Her Hayes Piano Series debut features an intriguing program of Opus One–the very first–works by Schumann, Clementi, Chopin, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Berg, and Weinberg.

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Program Details

Muzio Clementi – Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, op.1
Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Two Pieces, op. 1
Frédéric Chopin – Rondo in C minor, op. 1
Mieczyslaw Weinberg – Wiegnlied, op. 1
Robert Schumann – Abegg Variations, op. 1
Alban Berg – Trio Sonata in B Minor, op. 1
Johannes Brahms – Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major, op. 1

More About the Artist

Anna Geniushene

Anna Geniushene’s fresh, layered, and powerful interpretations defined her participation at the 2022 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition—and won her the coveted silver medal and the adoration of fans around the globe. And the critics couldn’t get enough: “powerhouse sound, forceful musical personality, and sheer virtuosity…had this critic on the edge of his seat,” (Musical America); “a performance of rare devotion and insight,” (Onstage NTX); “a fresh version…that had this listener hanging on every bar,” (La Scena).

Born in Moscow on New Year’s Day in 1991, Anna made her recital debut just seven years later in the small hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. She has since developed a diverse and versatile career as an artist: performances in major venues throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Anna’s debut recording, featuring works by Prokofiev and Rachmaninov, was released on LINN Records in March 2020. A laureate of major international piano contests, she previously had strong finishes at the Leeds (laureate and finalist), Tchaikovsky (semifinalist), and Busoni (third prize) competitions.

Anna Geniushene graduated from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory in 2015, where she studied with Professor Elena Kuznetsova, and completed her Master’s with Distinction and Advanced Diploma from the Royal Academy of Music (London) in 2018 under the tutelage of Professor Emeritus Christopher Elton. Also an enthusiastic teacher, she actively teaches masterclasses and adjudicates competitions, and served as assistant professor at the Moscow Conservatory until 2022. She currently resides in Lithuania with her husband and their two young sons.

“I couldn’t help but equate Anna Geniushene’s seasoned pianism to Cliburn at his best.”

– Gramophone

“It was Geniushene’s powerhouse sound, forceful musical personality, and sheer virtuosity that had this critic on the edge of his seat.”

Musical America

Program Notes

Clementi – Piano Sonata in E-flat Major

Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, op. 1
Muzio Clementi
Norn January 23, 1752, Rome
Died March 10, 1832, Evesham, Worcestershire

Born in Italy, Muzio Clementi was taken to England at age 14, where he soon established a reputation as one of the finest performers on what was then a new instrument, the piano; his concert tours took him to France, Germany, Vienna, Switzerland, Italy, and Russia. Clementi’s professional career spanned an equally broad range–he was at various times a pianist, composer, teacher, publisher, and a maker of pianos. Clementi was one of the first to understand the possibilities of the piano and to write specifically for that instrument (as opposed to the harpsichord). He wrote voluminously for the piano (about seventy sonatas survive), but opinions of his music and his playing varied. Mozart, who once competed against Clementi in a famous contest of virtuosos, described him as a mere technician and “a charlatan, like all Italians.” But Beethoven had considerably more respect for Clementi: he owned most of Clementi’s sonatas and admired them, and Clementi eventually became one of Beethoven’s publishers.

Clementi published his Opus 1, a set of six sonatas in 1771, when he was only 19, and the Sonata in E-flat Major is the first of these. Sonata form was still evolving at this moment: rather than being in the three movements of most Mozart piano sonatas, the sonatas of Clementi’s Opus 1 are in only two movements (one is in three), and these take an unusual shape: an opening movement in early sonata form, followed by a minuet. These sonatas are miniatures–the Sonata in E-flat Major heard on this program spans a total of only about seven minutes. Its Allegro con comodo opens with a theme full of snap, and Clementi makes nice contrast between piano and forte passages in this movement, something the harpsichord could not manage. More flowing secondary material follows, and Clementi develops these ideas concisely. The concluding Tempo di Minuetto is built on its poised and expressive opening theme. This movement can seem almost ornate in comparison to Mozart’s often sturdy minuets, and Clementi calls for a repeat of its long second section.

Program note by Eric Bromberger

Tchaikovsky – Two Pieces

Two Pieces, op. 1
Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Born May 7, 1840, Votkinsk
Died November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg

Tchaikovsky composed the two brief pieces that make up his Opus 1at an important intersection in his life. He wrote the Impromptu in 1863-64 while still a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and he composed the Scherzo à la russe in 1867 when–at age 27–he had just become a professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory.

Tchaikovsky was a good though not a great pianist, and perhaps it was right that his first official work should be two short pieces for piano. He based the Scherzo à la russe on a folk tune that he had noted down in the Ukraine in 1865. He marks its opening Allegro moderato, and the music proceeds energetically on that jaunty folk tune, here full of staccato writing. A calmer middle section leads to a return of the opening material, and Tchaikovsky rounds the piece off with an extremely powerful coda marked Presto.

The Impromptu is also an energetic piece, though with a sharper edge: Tchaikovsky marks it Allegro furioso. The outer sections whip along on hammered octaves in triplets. A calm middle section–Andante molto espressivo–brings some relief, and Tchaikovsky decorates it with delicate arabesques, colorful downward swirls of notes. The opening music returns, but Tchaikovsky springs a surprise at the close: all this energy suddenly vanishes, the tempo slows to Quasi Adagio, and the music fades into silence.

Program note by Eric Bromberger

Chopin – Rondo in C Minor

Rondo in C Minor, op. 1
Frédéric Chopin
Born February 22, 1810, Zelazowa Wola
Died October 17, 1849, Paris

Chopin’s musical talent was evident very early. He essentially taught himself to play the piano and began composing long before he had any idea how to notate music–he would play a piece for his teachers, who would write it down. Chopin published a polonaise privately at age 7, and by the time he entered the Warsaw Conservatory, everyone understood that here was a phenomenal talent. Józef Elsner, the director of the Warsaw Conservatory, wrote a term-end evaluation of the young man that consisted of four words: “Extraordinary talent. Musical genius.”

It was during these years that Chopin had his first “official” publication, the Rondo in C Minor, which was published as his Opus 1 in June 1825, when the composer was 15. The Rondo is very accomplished music, but it is hardly distinctive–no one would recognize the voice of the mature Chopin in this youthful work. The rondo is not a form we identify with Chopin, and listeners have felt a certain formal correctness in this music–it should be heard and enjoyed as the work of an unbelievable talent on his way toward maturity. The stern rondo theme, marked Allegro, is announced immediately, and this soon gives way to the first episode, a lyric idea in E major. Young Chopin alternates these episodes, and the music develops with a certain turbulent brilliance before it finally drives to a firm conclusion.

Program note by Eric Bromberger

Weinberg – Wiegenlied

Wiegenlied, op. 1
Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Born December 8, 1919, Warsaw
Died February 26, 1996, Moscow

The Polish-Russian composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg was unbelievably prolific. He wrote seven operas, 22 symphonies, 17 string quartets, and numerous orchestral and chamber works–his list of opus numbers runs to 192. Weinberg may have been a successful and honored composer, but he led a horribly difficult life. He came from a musical family in Poland (his father was a violinist and conductor), and as a young man he studied piano at the Warsaw Conservatory. But when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Weinberg fled to the Soviet Union (his parents and sister, who remained in Poland, died in concentration camps). Weinberg studied at the Minsk Conservatory, but when he sent the score of his First Symphony to Shostakovich, the older composer encouraged him to move to Moscow, and the two remained close for the next thirty years. Shostakovich, in fact, risked his own career to intercede on Weinberg’s behalf when the younger composer was arrested and imprisoned in February 1953 on the charge of “Jewish bourgeois nationalism” during the so-called “Doctors’ Plot” against Stalin (Stalin died in March 1953, and Weinberg was released the following month). Weinberg’s final years were difficult: he suffered from debilitating illnesses that left him an invalid.

All of this, of course, was still ahead of Weinberg when he composed his Wiegenlied in 1935–he was sixteen years old at the time and still a student at the Warsaw Conservatory. The title Wiegenlied translates as “lullaby” or “cradle song” and this music is often known under its French title, Berceuse. A lullaby should be gentle, and this one is, flowing gently along a steady murmur of sound. Young Weinberg offers some nice harmonic shifts along the way, and the music rises to some busy though not strident climaxes on its way to the subdued conclusion.

Program note by Eric Bromberger

Schumann – Variations on the Name “Abegg”

Variations on the Name “Abegg,” op. 1
Robert Schumann
Born June 8, 1810, Zwickau
Died July 29, 1856, Endenich

Throughout his life, Robert Schumann loved games, puzzles, word-play, and mysteries with secret clues, particularly when they could be embedded in his own music, and so it is right that his first published work should grow out of one of these games. Schumann’s mother had wanted him to become a lawyer, and she sent him off to law school, first in Leipzig and then Heidelberg. But Schumann attended no law courses, instead spending his time practicing the piano and attending dances and parties. At a ball in Heidelberg early in 1830, the 19-year-old Schumann met a young pianist named Meta Abegg and wrote a theme based on the letters of her last name. B is B-flat in German notation, so musically her name is “spelled” A-B-flat-E-G-G; Schumann set this theme in 3/4 and called it the “Meta-Waltz.”

That summer, Schumann worked on a piano concerto in F minor, and as part of this concerto he planned a movement that would be a set of variations on the “Meta-Waltz.” The concerto was never completed, but the variation-movement did survive, if only in a version for solo piano. The structure of this brief set of variations is quite straightforward: Schumann presents his theme in its simplest form, offers three variations, follows these with a Cantabile that is in fact a fourth variation, and concludes with a Finale that is a fifth variation. The “Abegg” theme may be simple on its opening presentation, but the three variations are quite difficult and brilliant, with the energetic right hand leaping and tumbling across the range of the keyboard–Schumann marks the third variation corrente: “running.” The Cantabile is a halting waltz in 9/8, full of trills, while the Finale moves forward on a pulsing 6/8 meter. Along the way comes a remarkable moment: Schumann brings the music to a stop and presents two chords marked ad libitum. The second chord contains the notes of the “Abegg” theme, and Schumann releases each of these notes in turn until only a solitary G is left echoing quietly–it is a most subtle presentation of that theme. The music then rushes ahead, and–with the right hand sparkling through the piano’s ringing high register–this finale races to its very quiet conclusion.

Though he abandoned the piano concerto, Schumann felt a particular affection for this set of variations–in 1831, he published it as his official Opus 1.

Program note by Eric Bromberger

Berg – Piano Sonata

Piano Sonata, op. 1
Alban Berg
Born February 9, 1885, Vienna
Died December 24, 1935, Vienna

In the fall of 1904, Alban Berg–nineteen years old–appeared on the doorstep of Arnold Schoenberg in Vienna with a portfolio of youthful compositions. He was answering Schoenberg’s newspaper advertisement for composition students, and that fall the older composer accepted Berg and another young man named Anton Webern as private students. Berg would remain a student of Schoenberg for the next six years, and the music he composed under Schoenberg’s guidance during the first decade of the century shows a steady growth in assurance and sophistication. Yet these first efforts–the Seven Early Songs, the Piano Sonata, and the String Quartet–are in some measure all transitional works: they show signs of Berg’s future direction (particularly in their motivic concentration), yet all three works remain firmly anchored in the late-romantic idiom of the turn of the century.

Berg’s Piano Sonata is very much a transitional work. He began it in the summer of 1907, after three years of study with Schoenberg, and completed it the following summer. The sonata is only one movement long, though Berg’s original plan had been to compose a piano sonata in traditional three-movement form. Having completed what was to be the first movement of that sonata, Berg found that he could make no headway on the second and third movements, and Schoenberg suggested that the young composer should regard the work as complete in its one-movement form. Berg felt satisfied enough with this music to consider it his Opus 1, and it was published by Universal Edition in 1910. The first public performance took place in Vienna on April 24, 1911.

Listeners may be struck by just how traditional this movement is, for it conforms in many ways to the form of the classical piano sonata. While it is written with a great deal of harmonic freedom, it has a home key and even a key signature (B minor), and Berg honors classical form to the extent of offering a repeat of the exposition. The remarkable thing about this music is Berg’s ability to generate an entire structure out of tiny motivic fragments, most of which are presented in the opening measures. These are expanded into a full sonata-form structure, recapitulated, and brought to a quiet–and emotionally-satisfying–close in unequivocal B minor. Berg notates this music with scrupulous care, with tempo fluctuations and dynamic gradations registered quite precisely. This is wide-ranging music in many senses: the writing spans almost the entire width of the keyboard, and its dynamic compass stretches from triple forte to triple piano.

Program note by Eric Bromberger

Brahms – Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major

Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major, Opus 1
Johannes Brahms
Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg
Died April 3, 1897, Vienna

On October 1, 1853, the 20-year-old Brahms appeared at the Schumann home in Düsseldorf and began to play the piano. Robert listened for only a few moments before he summoned his wife, and the two of them were enthralled. That night Clara wrote in her journal:

Here again is one of those who comes as if sent straight from God. He played us sonatas, scherzos etc. of his own, all of them showing exuberant imagination, depth of feeling, and mastery of form . . . It is really moving to see him sitting at the piano, with his interesting young face which becomes transfigured when he plays, his beautiful hands, which overcome the greatest difficulties with perfect ease (his things are very difficult), and in addition these remarkable compositions.

In a notice published later that month, Robert hailed the young composer: “Sitting at the piano he began to disclose wonderful regions to us. We were drawn into even more enchanting spheres. Besides, he is a player of genius who can make of the piano, an orchestra of lamenting and loudly jubilant voices. There were sonatas, veiled symphonies rather . . .”

The first work Brahms played for the Schumanns was his Piano Sonata in C Major, which he had completed in January of 1853, four months before his twentieth birthday. Brahms published this sonata later that year as his Opus 1, even though several works written earlier were assigned higher opus numbers, and he was honest about his reasons: he was proud of this music and wanted his first published work “to appear in the most favorable light.”

In a famous remark, Brahms spoke of his anxiety over working in the shadow of Beethoven and of “how the tramp of a giant like him” haunted his efforts to compose a symphony. The very young Brahms was no less aware of the example of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and everyone feels the similarity between the opening of Brahms’ Sonata in C Major and Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata: the rhythm is identical, and the openings make the same broad and dramatic gesture. But the teenaged composer is already in possession of his own voice, and this sonata is unmistakably the music of Brahms rather than an imitation of Beethoven. It is a big-boned work in four substantial movements, and it stretches out to over half an hour in performance. Already evident are many of the trademarks of Brahms’ piano music: rolled chords, frequent use of the piano’s ringing high register, rhythmic complexities, a particular fondness for passages written in thirds, extensive octave and chordal writing, and moments of such power that they seem to confirm Schumann’s assertion that these early sonatas were really “veiled symphonies.”

The opening Allegro is in a broad sonata form: the dramatic beginning gives way to extensive and varied secondary material, which Brahms specifies should be both dolce and con espressivo; much of the development, in fact, treats this lyric material before the movement pounds to its dramatic close. The second movement is in variation form, and Brahms uses as his theme a melody that he believed an old German folksong: he writes the words of the song into the piano score and treats this line as if it were being sung by a soloist who is answered by a chorus. The four variations, all decorative, grow increasingly complex, and along the way Brahms breaks the metric flow down into such unusual units as measures of 3/16 and 4/16. This movement proceeds without pause into the Scherzo, appropriately marked Allegro molto e con fuoco, which gallops along its 6/8 meter. The relatively cheerful mood of its beginning is gradually left behind as the music approaches the end of the opening section, and again Brahms’ markings tell the tale. He moves from feroce to fortissimo and molto pesante, proceeds just as quickly to staccatissimo e marcato, and pounds home on a cadence marked strepitoso (“noisy”) that seems to end in the middle of nowhere on stark E-minor chords. The flowing trio section makes a similar progression, moving from its restrained and melodic opening through a powerful climax; a sudden rip down the scale plunges us back into the opening material and a da capo repeat. The finale is in rondo form, and its opening theme is a variant of the opening gesture of the first movement, now rebarred into 9/8 and featuring some wonderfully unexpected accents as its rips along. There are two major episodes along the way, and the sonata dances its way to an ebullient close on a lengthy coda, now in 6/8, that Brahms marks Presto non troppo ed agitato.

Program note by Eric Bromberger

Our Partners

This performance is made possible through the generous support of the following sponsors: Billy Rose Foundation; Ellen and Michael Gold; and Dallas Morse Coors Foundation for the Performing Arts.

The Hayes Piano Series is made possible in part through the generous support of Susan S. Angell.

Washington Performing Arts’s classical music performances this season are made possible in part through the generous support of Betsy and Robert Feinberg.

This is one of fourteen 2023-2024 season performances included in Washington Performing Arts’s The World in Our City initiative, which promotes cross-cultural understanding and cultural diplomacy via the presentation of international visiting artists, globally inspired local programming, and the award-winning Embassy Adoption Program, a partnership with D.C. Public Schools. Support for The World in Our City is provided by The Boeing Company.

Special thanks to the following lead supporters of Washington Performing Arts’s mission-driven work: Jacqueline Badger Mars and Mars, Incorporated; D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities; the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs Program and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts; and The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.

This performance is an external rental presented in coordination with the Kennedy Center Campus Rentals Office and is not produced by the Kennedy Center.

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