Rach Fest: two nights, four concertos, four pianists
The Seattle Symphony hosts up-and-coming piano stars at its two-night salute to Rachmaninov Jan. 3 (concertos 1 and 2) and 5 (nos. 3 & 4).
Special to The Seattle Times
Seattle Symphony Orchestra: Rach Fest
Rachmaninov Festival, 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Part 1) and 8 p.m. Saturday (Part 2). Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $19-$122 each night (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).
“The first week of January can be difficult to bring people into a concert hall,” says Seattle Symphony Orchestra music director Ludovic Morlot.
If it takes a particularly attractive and artistically promising project to overcome the public’s post-holiday hangover, Morlot and SSO’s planning team believe they’ve come up with a winner.
On Thursday and Saturday at Benaroya Hall, Morlot will conduct the orchestra and four young but accomplished pianists through all of Sergey Rachmaninov’s melodic and technically challenging piano concertos. This “Rach Fest” will feature a quartet of rising stars from around the world, bringing new perspectives to the beloved compositions.
“It’s a combination of wanting to present young artists who are prizewinners in major competitions with exploring a whole repertoire in two days,” Morlot says. “All those magnificent concertos played together in that context makes it really exciting. I think you’ll see this project continue into the future with the likes of Tchaikovsky and Brahms.”
Of the four pianists invited to participate, Morlot has previously worked with one, 23-year-old Denis Kozhukhin. A Russian praised by Le Soir as “already in the company of the greats with his combination of moral strength and gentleness,” Kozhukhin won the top prize for piano in Belgium’s 2010 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition. He takes on Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 on Saturday.
On Thursday, South-Korea’s Yeol Eum Son, 26, silver medalist at the Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, will perform the Piano Concerto No. 1, written in 1891 and heavily revised in 1917.
Son will be followed by the celebrated 20-year-old British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, hailed in 2011 by the Daily Telegraph as one of the “Top 10 Britons of the Year.” A recipient this year of two Gramophone Awards, Grosvenor has been the youngest winner of a number of international competitions. He’ll perform the gorgeous Second Piano Concerto.
Joining Kozhukhin on Saturday is Chinese pianist Di Wu, another Van Cliburn winner. Wu, who made her debut with the Beijing Philharmonic at age 14, will perform Rachmaninov’s dazzling Third Piano Concerto.
Morlot says part of the motivation for Rach Fest is creating a concert opportunity for these guest artists.
“The first year after winning a prize, you’re usually offered a lot of opportunities to play concertos,” he says. “But after a year or so, they dry up very quickly. It’s almost like a commission: Getting that first performance is pretty easy, but getting the second, third and fourth is really where the challenge lies. I think it’s important to be one of the orchestras providing that chance.”
There are rewards, too, for Morlot and Seattle Symphony musicians, in concentrating on a specific repertoire in one composer’s oeuvre.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us because it really makes you realize how a composer’s writing evolves over 30 or 40 years,” says Morlot. “Rachmaninov’s second and third piano concertos are heard all the time, but there’s a great journey between the first and fourth. This is a wonderful way to see they deserve just as much attention.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org