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Monthly Archives: January 2012
The third and final week of “RachFest” is filling me with excitement for the upcoming performances of Rachmaninoff’s second concerto. I’m also feeling a hint of nostalgia as this project comes to a close. It has been wonderful and challenging to be immersed uninterruptedly in Rachmaninoff’s concertos. Performing all of them with the musicians of the Houston Symphony, becoming familiar with many of the audience members, feeling the continuity of the series and staying in Houston for three weeks has been a memorable and touching experience. I am grateful for having this chance to form bonds that go deeper than the usual five-day engagement period for most concerto performances allows.
I find Rachmaninoff’s second concerto comparable to Tchaikovsky’s first in the challenges it presents to a modern-day interpreter. Both pieces are more than popular and their themes have become part of our general culture. Thus the challenge is in trying to get back to the source of the pieces, peeling away the listening habits and cliches, and taking the pieces seriously, as they were taken, before becoming “warhorses” of the repertoire.
Of all Rachmaninoff’s concertos, the second is the one that most depends on the individual emotional investment of the pianist and the conductor, as well as a certain purity of musical goals. Unlike the third concerto, here the piano writing alone doesn’t generate all the necessary voltage. At the same time, overt emotionality quickly lapses into sentimentality.
The need for a balanced point between the extremes of boredom and kitsch suggests a classical approach to a very romantic yet pure substance. The musical material contains a typical Rachmaninoff mixture of church bells, long melodies tinged with melancholy and Russian harmonies spiced up by the fascination with Caucasus. The Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains were a draw to many Russian artists from Lermontov and Pushkin to Chekhov and Rachmaninoff.
Thank you for following and listening to our Rachmaninoff journey this month. The beauty of music is that each listener experiences it differently and its effects are undeniable yet unpredictable. I will be thrilled if something from these concerts stays in your memory and I hope to meet you in future musical adventures.
In the meantime, there is one more joint adventure this week: please join me for Rachmaninoff’s Second concerto with the Houston Symphony and Maestro Hans Graf.
Our “RachFest” continues this week with a pairing of Rachmaninoff’s 1st and 4th piano concertos. These two wonderful pieces are sometimes undeservedly overshadowed by their more famous cousins. I am glad to have the chance to present them to the Houston audience, and playing them together in one program makes a lot of sense.
To watch Kirill’s interviews with Fox Morning News, click here.
Even though the 1st concerto is published as opus 1 and was written by Rachmaninoff at age 19, he came back to the piece as a mature composer in 1917 (the year he left Russia) and thoroughly rewrote it. Thus, in its revised form, the 1st concerto dates from a later period than the 3rd concerto. Young Rachmaninoff’s musical material already bears the beloved hallmarks of his style, and the combination of the youthful exuberance and the mature composer’s handling of harmony, orchestration and piano-writing makes this piece especially attractive. Rachmaninoff was very fond of this piece and late in life reportedly asked his good friend, Vladimir Horowitz, to learn it. Horowitz told writer David Dubal that he “never learned it because a couple of passages were awkward, but gave it to his student’, the great American pianist, Byron Janis.
The fourth concerto is Rachmaninoff’s reaction to the change in the musical landscape of the 1920s, as well as a painfully emotional statement on his nomadic life after leaving his homeland. I think of this piece as an expression of the essence of his musical soul. The opulence of the melodies and the lusciousness of the piano-writing now is boiled down and distilled. What is stronger than ever before is the directness of expression, courage to stay true to himself in the face of changing times, and also, openness to experimentation. In subtle ways, modern angularity, jazz sounds and contemporary compositional developments are all inside the fourth concerto. Yet, the piece is authentically “Rachmaninoff” in sound and mood. To me, the fourth concerto is like a beautiful wounded animal, letting out one last strong cry.
Rachmaninoff completed this concerto in 1926, but made significant revisions in 1928 and in 1941. Even after recording it with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy, he continued to add details to the score, making it the last composition he worked on before his death. Maestro Hans Graf and I have enjoyed correspondence about some of these late additions. Pianist and researcher, Leslie Howard, kindly shared a copy of an autograph page, housed at the Library of Congress, for figures 74 to 76 of the 3rd movement. I am happy that our performance this weekend will include additional counterpoint lines that are usually omitted from performance.
Looking forward to seeing you at the concerts!
For more information or to purchase tickets to this weekend’s concert, RachFest 2 – Rach 1 & 4, please click here.
To watch Kirill’s interviews with Fox Morning News, click here.
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.