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ArtBeat: Conversation with pianist Alexander Tutunov

Alexander Tutunov is a virtuoso pianist from the former Soviet Union. First Prize winner of the Belarusian National Piano Competition and winner of the Russian National Piano Competition, Tutunov’s playing was described by Soviet Culture, Moscow, as “exhilarating and inspired, and which demonstrated a unique talent.”

Tutunov graduated magna cum laude from the Central Music School of the Moscow Conservatory (studies with Anna Artobolevskaya and Lev Naumov) and University of North Texas (piano studies with Joseph Banowetz). Awarded his doctoral diploma with honors in concert performance from the Belarusian State Conservatory, Tutunov has taught at the Minsk College of Music, University of North Texas, and Illinois Wesleyan University. He is professor of piano and artist in residence at Southern Oregon University and the founder of SOU’s Tutunov Piano Series, which has been a highlight of the classical music calendar in the Rogue Valley for nearly 10 years. I caught up with Tutunov to chat about the program.

JG: Alex, Tell us a little bit about the history of the Tutunov Piano Series and how it came to be?

AT: In 2011, at a dinner held at a friends’ house, the generosity of eight committed, music-loving couples launched the SOU Tutunov Piano Series. The idea was (and still is) to share the best classical piano music with folks in the Rogue Valley. Each couple pitched in a few hundred dollars to create the seed money, and now, going on the ninth year, the series has grown substantially, both in the geographical origin of performers and in audience support.

The quality of the series has risen as well. Some of the concerts attract listeners from as far as Redding, Brookings and Eugene. I know my professional connections have played a role in attracting well known artists from around the world to come play at the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall.

JG: How has COVID-19 impacted the series and the creatives with whom you work and live?

AT: Naturally, to say this is a shocking and unprecedented time for the performing arts is an understatement. Artists are faced with two choices: do nothing, or start looking for creative ways to keep performance alive. Art and music ... are especially needed in difficult times. This is when the most passionate advocates come into play. I am in awe of the great things my colleagues have come up with: developing educational series online, learning or creating new music, building a loyal virtual following, etc.

For the Tutunov Piano Series, one thing is for certain: we will persevere and survive. We will come out of this travail stronger and better than ever. It has always been my honor to dedicate the funds received to bringing world class artists to our Rogue valley.

JG: What does the future of the series look like, and how can the community at large best support your work?

AT: Given the current situation, I have decided not to advertise the entire seven-concert season, though we do have all the artists lined up. Instead, we are beginning to promote the two concerts that will take place this fall on stage at SOU. The great Garrick Ohlsson, the only American to win the gold medal at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, and now professor of piano at the San Francisco Conservatory, is scheduled to play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1. It will be for a limited live audience in the Music Recital Hall. Also, we will provide livestreaming on YouTube for people wishing to purchase tickets but choosing to enjoy the concert from home. Our second program in the series is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 13, also at 7:30 p.m. It will likely be the “Tutunov and Friends” program (details to follow). As for support, while we receive some generous donations from individuals (and more each year), our main revenue comes from ticket sales. This means I am extremely grateful to everyone who would consider supporting us by attending our piano series, live or virtually. For more information and updates, contact me directly at tutunov@sou.edu or oca@sou.edu.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a columnist, arts reviewer and cultural commentator. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

Alexander Tutunov Courtesy photo