“Renaissance Man” Lansing State Journal

“Renaissance Man”

Lansing State Journal, April 28, 2013

by Ken Glickman

Somehow, calling Sergei Kvitko a musician is limiting. Yes, he’s playing a solo piano recital Tuesday at Cook Recital Hall at the Michigan State University’s College of Music where his earned his DMA. And that concert precedes his recital in New York’s Carnegie Hall in May. But despite his proven virtuosity at the keyboard, Kvitko is so much more than a piano player.

Ken Beachler, actor and director, says, “He’s endlessly talented.”

That’s a pretty accurate assessment. Kvitko came to town in 1996 to study piano with Ralph Votapek at MSU – but since then has allowed his artistic and technical skills to flourish in ways he never imagined.

When a fellow student asked him to record his playing for an audition CD, Kvitko said yes because he had just recorded his own playing.

Kvitko says, “Music school faculty started to hear my records and liked what they heard.”

Fast forward to the present day and Kvitko is owner, chief engineer and producer of Blue Griffin Recording, a classical label that is gaining an adoring reputation from critics and artists alike.

About 25 percent of his clients are local, the rest fly in from all over the world.

He lives and works in one of Lansing’s most legendary homes, The Potter House, built in 1926. With 17,000 square feet, it’s also the largest.

Commenting on his success, Kvitko says, “I thought I was lucky enough to come to the U.S. from Russia to study with Ralph Votapek. If you would have told me when I was a boy in Gorky, that I would have a thriving recording business, I would say it was the craziest thing I ever heard.

And one of his biggest clients is his former teacher. They have made seven CDs together. Votapek says, “I underrated his talent when he studied with me. He just recorded “Pictures at An Exhibition.” It’s wonderful and has received raves from record magazines and critics. Since he left me, he’s getting better and better.”

Why does Votapek, who has an international reputation, record with Kvitko? Votapek responds, “He’s got a fantastic ear. And when he edits music, it’s seamless. It’s technically perfect. Also, he’s only six miles from my house.”

Votapek says that Kvitko was also a bit obsessive, and now he uses that trait to meticulously go through all of the takes, and edit in the good stuff and edit out the bad.

“When I make a CD with Sergei, it’s just the two of us. We work together. But when he begins the editing process, he’s very fast and accurate. And he loves doing it.

“I’m happy and a little surprised of what he has become.”

Walking into his home and trekking up to the third floor, you enter the “ballroom” – a space large enough to have held about 100 people for concerts. In the front of the room is a magnificent Steinway 9-foot concert grand.

The warm resonance of the room and the massive sound of the piano provides a sound that envelopes the listener.

Kvitko’s love for music, art and people permeates his personality.

Ricky Ian Gordon, one of American’s most wellknown songwriters and opera composers, travels from New York to record all of his CDs at Blue Griffin. “Sergei offers an experience I don’t get in New York,” says Gordon. His ballroom is a treasure.

“When I come to Lansing, I stay in his home, and good things happen there. I’m relaxed because Sergei has become a good friend. It’s the best possible way to makes music. Also, Sergei is an amazing musician with an impeccable ear.

“He understands that playing music for a concert is different than when you record it for a CD.”

Since Kvitko is an accomplished performer himself, he does not hold back from making musical suggestions to the performer he’s recording. Beachler says, “He understands what the artist wants to achieve. And he gets to it.”

Gordon says, “He’s not telling you something to impugn your artistry. He wants you to achieve the best possible recording.”

Kvitko admits that making a living with a new classical music label in this age if iPods, iTunes and YouTube is difficult.”

It’s a hard field to break though. But l feel that it is very important to make these recordings. It’s the life work of these musicians. Also it’s important to record new music.”

Gordon says, “Who else is recording new material like Sergei? No one.”

Despite the difficulties, Kvitko has produced more than 80 CDs.

In addition to his skills as a performer, composer, record producer and businessman, add videographer. Gordon says, “He has made video of some of my songs and they are visual poems – just beautiful.”

Kvitko also is the music director of First Presbyterian Church in Lansing, home of Molly Grove Chapel.

For his concert in East Lansing, Kvitko will be adding an exciting visual element – dancers from Chicago. Yet another example of combining music with beauty and visual artistry.