Today’s post was written by artist-in-residence Kirill Gerstein ahead of this month’s RachFest. During RachFest, Gerstein will perform all four of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s knuckle-busting piano concertos. Stay tuned for more posts from Kirill in the coming weeks!
I am excited to start our joint Rachmaninoff adventure with the Houston Symphony this week. In my opinion, Rachmaninoff’s concertos are some of the most gratifying pieces written for the piano. Playing and hearing the four concertos in three consecutive weeks offers a special opportunity to hear the essence of Rachmaninoff’s voice while observing the changes and growth of his style.
We are starting with the 3rd concerto – a concerto Rachmaninoff wrote for his first American tour. This mighty piece has helped shape my way of playing the piano. Through its immense musical and technical challenges, as well as tone production demands, this concerto itself has the power to teach and dictate the necessary means of expression.
While the piece is famous for its melodic beauty and technical difficulty, its structural inventiveness is often overlooked. The large solo cadenza in the middle of the first movement is simultaneously a recapitulation of the opening, thus making the movement a sonata form in an original way. This placement of the cadenza in the middle, rather than at the end of the movement, is a tip of the hat to Mendelssohn’s violin concerto. The quick waltz in the 2nd movement is Rachmaninoff’s homage to Tchaikovsky, whose 1st piano concerto contains a waltz-like scherzo in the slow movement as well.
I can’t wait to start exploring Rachmaninoff’s music together with the Houston Symphony, Maestros Gardner and Graf, and the Houston audience.