Pianist Simon Trpceski
Roll the r: TrrEpschkey.
Now that we’ve got the pronunciation out of the way, meet Simon Trpceski. Trpceski, 30, will make his Milwaukee debut Friday, as the soloist in Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with music director Edo de Waart and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Trpceski is from Macedonia, population around 2 million, a landlocked country north of Greece. Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia, which broke apart as Trpceski entered his teen years. It wasn’t the easiest place to become a concert pianist.
“The classical tradition is not that deep in Macedonia,” Trpceski said, in an interview Wednesday, just prior to his first rehearsal with the MSO. “And I grew up in turbulent times, a 20-year transition away from Yugoslavia.”
Though his father was a judge and his mother a pharmacist, they, Simon and his two siblings crowded into a small apartment. Simon practiced on an upright piano in the living room. His father called upon friends and family to fund fund Trpceski’s trips to piano competitions elsewhere in Europe. The effort proved worthwhile: He won the silver in the London International in 2000. That helped launch what is shaping up to be a major career. In November, he will be the soloist with the Baltimore Symphony at Carnegie Hall. He has already appeared with the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and with de Waart’s other orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic.
Relations between the former Yugoslavia and the old USSR were often strained, but significant cultural exchange did occur. Trpceski said that his teacher, Boris Romanov, had studied with Konstantin Igumnov and Jakov Milstein, two of the Russian teachers who made the USSR a major exporter of great pianists in the mid to late 20th century.
“I got the best of the good old Russian school, which was all about good taste in music,” Trpceski said, “which to me is the most important thing.”
“They invited me to teach there when I graduated,” he said. “I was honored. It’s already seven years, now. It’s one thing to perform, but an entirely different dimension to sit next to a student and bring out the most authentic aspect of the music in the most genuine way. I’m learning a lot from that.”
Living in Skopje allows his close-knit family to assist Trpceski’s wife, a psychologist and a nurse, with their 5-month-old daughter.
“There’s no place like home,” he said. “Everyday life is very important. I don’t want to spend my whole life in airplanes and hotels.”
Trpceski could afford to live anywhere, and wouldn’t rule out a move from small, relatively impoverished Macedonia at some point. But now, he sounds committed to his home country.
“We are Mediterranean,” he said. “We love to enjoy life. Which is why we are maybe not so organized.
“But we are sociable. Hardly a day went by when I was growing up that someone — relatives, friends — wouldn’t come over to visit.”
Visiting, in Macedonia, doesn’t mean watching TV together.
“There is dancing and singing almost every day,” he said. “You should see me at a wedding reception! My first love was the accordion. I love that natural dimension to life and to music. That has helped me to understand the feeling in classical music.”
This all-Saint-Saens program also includes the Symphony No. 3 (Organ Symphony) and Danse Macabre. Concert times are 11:15 a.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday (May 28-29) at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. Tickets are $24-$77 Friday and $25-$93 Saturday. Visit the MSO website, call the MSO ticket line at 414-291-7605 or call the Marcus Center box office, 414-273-7206.
Tickets are $15-$45, from the sources above, for the Classical Connections concert, a briefer, narrated version of Saint-Saens program. It begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 27, in Uihlein Hall. The Classical Connections series includes pre-concert cocktails and appetizers and a post-concert gathering at the InterContinental Hotel.