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Originally published Monday, September 12, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Cliburn's play merits 3 encores

This was an audience in a festive mood. The "Russian Spectacular" Opening Night Gala at the Seattle Symphony kicked off the 2005-06 season...

Seattle Times music critic

This was an audience in a festive mood.

The "Russian Spectacular" Opening Night Gala at the Seattle Symphony kicked off the 2005-06 season to the tune of roaring applause and standing ovations. You don't often see an artist getting a standing ovation after the first movement of the concerto, nor do you see the performer coming back for three solo encores.

You do, however, when it's Van Cliburn. One of the most recognized names in classical music, he is the kind of sentimental favorite who can get an audience excited merely by walking onto the stage.

Cliburn played his signature piece, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 (the piece with which he won the Tchaikovsky Competition), with a revved-up Seattle Symphony under the baton of music director Gerard Schwarz.

It was a fervent, large-scale performance, with the pianist playing his own instrument. Most of the notes were in place, but the famous Cliburn sonority has given way to a rough, loudly percussive approach that had the pianist pounding and slapping the keys.

The multiple ovations brought three solo encores: Rachmaninoff's G-Sharp Minor Prelude, Chopin's "Revolutionary" Etude and Schumann's "Widmung."

Schwarz took the orchestra through some charming pieces, from Glinka's seldom-heard "Kamarinskaya" to Borodin's tuneful "Polovtsian Dances," with considerable dispatch and some brilliantly colored playing. The finale, Tchaikovsky's "1812" Overture, got an exciting brass boost from members of the UW Husky Marching Band.


The Seattle Symphony Orchestra Opening Night Gala, with Gerard Schwarz conducting; Van Cliburn, piano soloist; and members of the University of Washington Husky Marching Band. Benaroya Hall, Saturday night.

Well-deserved awards were given to Symphony donors Craig and Joan Watjen, and acoustician Cyril Harris was made an honorary member of the orchestra (the first time in history such a distinction has been awarded).

This is a big season for orchestra personnel changes, with seven new musicians joining the symphony this year: Ko-ichiro Yamamoto, principal trombone; Ben Hausmann, second oboe; Stefan Farkas, English horn/oboe; Ayako Gamo and Timothy Garland, first violins; Artur Girsky, second violin; and Joseph Kaufman, bass.

The decision on a permanent concertmaster won't be made for a few months yet.

One finalist returning to play again with the symphony is Elisabeth Adkins, associate concertmaster for the National Symphony, who was here last March for Mainly Mozart concerts. Adkins played Saturday night and will also play this week's subscription concerts, starting Thursday, and "Symphony of Relief" benefit for New Orleans on Friday evening.

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