Sergei Nakariakov blows in

The classical musician is often subject to such an extreme makeover to project good looks and sex appeal, sometimes at the expense of talent, that the cynic can be left feeling the marketing is more important than the musicianship. Not so with young Russian trumpeter Sergei Nakariakov, who visits South Africa this month as part of the Music is a Great Investment (Miagi) festival.

In a welcome contrast to the Vanessa Maes and Il Divos on the scene, Nakariakov offers poster-boy good looks, but only as part of a package dominated by an incredible virtuosity and musical authority on his difficult instrument.

Still in his 20s, Nakariakov has spent the past decade and a half establishing himself as the undisputed leading classical trumpet player in the world. He can boast of performances at big-name venues in London, New York and Los Angeles and nine recorded albums featuring groundbreaking music on the classical trumpet. Most music fans will be more familiar with the trumpet’s status as a solo jazz instrument, without realising its powerful capability in front of an orchestra.

The soaring, clean resonance that Nakariakov projects is in contrast to a Miles Davis style sound, smoky and melancholic, but the two are flip sides of the same coin. Indeed, American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has proved his Grammy-winning importance in both fields, but now seems more focused on his conservative jazz approach.

Born in 1977, Nakariakov began playing the piano while a young child but switched to trumpet after a spinal injury in 1986.

Guided by his father, Mikhail, in a short amount of time Nakariakov was performing across Russia and then, as the Cold War thawed, began appearing on stages in Europe and the United States.

It is characteristic of musical prodigies that, once given the correct instrument and the right teacher, they progress at such a rapid rate that it seems to defy explanation or understanding. Mozart showed unprecedented talent at three and was touring Europe from the age of six, while Yehudi Menuhin astounded a cynical New York Philharmonic Orchestra at 11 — physically not strong enough to turn the tuning pegs on his instrument but mature enough to give a masterful reading of the Beethoven violin concerto.

Similarly, Nakariakov’s progress was so rapid that, only five years after first picking a trumpet at nine, he had signed a recording contract and produced an astonishing debut album in 1992. On the cover of this first album he stares out from behind an unruly fringe, a kid looking even younger than his early teens. This recording, blandly entitled Trumpet Works, showcases Nakariakov’s confidence in a dazzling array of pieces, opening with Gershwin’s jazzy Rhapsody in Blue through Arban’s quasi-polyphonic Carnival of Venice and flying through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee.

On his other impressive recordings, Nakariakov varies between lyrical, elegiac songs, recorded with his piano-playing sister and amazing transcriptions of already challenging works for other instruments, including violin, cello, bassoon and horn. He has also branched out into playing the trumpet’s close cousins, the flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet, notably on his recordings of baroque trumpet concertos and his album No Limit.

What’s on and where

The Music is a Great Investment (Miagi) festival this year focuses on wind instruments, and their ability to cross cultural boundaries.

Sergei Nakariakov performs at the Johannesburg City Hall on May 8, at the Baxter Concert Hall in Cape Town on May 10, and at the Linder auditorium in Johannesburg on May 13. Also on the programme at the Johannesburg City Hall will be a kudu horn ensemble premiering a new piece by Hans Huyssen.

Other international artists appearing at the festival include Andrea Vettoretti and Corrado de Bernart, an Italian guitar/piano duo who perform at the Sunnyside Conference Hall in Pretoria on May 5, before touring in Paarl, Port Elizabeth and George. The Ensemble Viento, a wind quintet (flute, clarinet, oboe, French horn and bassoon) from Germany will perform a repertoire by the usual classical suspects at Summer Place in Jo’burg on May 6 and at the Dias Street Dutch Reformed Church in Welgemoed on May 12.

From May 24 to 27 the festival will host a jazz programme that includes Pedro Espi-Sanchis and Irish saxophonist Peadar Long at Soweto’s Mofolo Park, female jazz quartet Demaj and Carlo Mombelli at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

For more information, visit www.miagi.co.za

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