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Rachmaninoff Masterpieces at MSO

Classical Preview

Oct. 12, 2009
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“A composer’s music should express the country of his birth, his love affairs, his religion… I compose because I must give expression to my feelings, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.” That succinct statement given in an interview with an American journalist perfectly encapsulates the whole career of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). Such unabashedly Romantic sentiments made him seem very old-fashioned by the middle of the 20th century, but no matter: He wrote some of the most memorable, tuneful, colorful and beloved pieces of music—works that have never left the orchestral repertoire. In its upcoming concerts, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

(MSO) under Edo de Waart performs two of Rachmaninoff’s musical masterpieces.

The successful premiere of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto in 1901 confirmed that he had finally emerged from a four-year-long depression—the result of the utter critical and popular failure of his First Symphony. But sudden success proved very taxing on the 33-year-old composer-pianist-conductor, so he, his wife and daughter departed Russia for a three-year stay in Dresden, Germany (only venturing back every so often to see his in-laws at the family estate in Ivanovka). During this relatively relaxed period Rachmaninoff found the time and inspiration to compose, producing his next great triumph: the Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27.

Beginning with its 1908 St. Petersburg premiere, the accessible and melodious E Minor Symphony was a terrific success. Though rather a lengthy symphony, its language is straightforward, colorful and nicely proportioned. Perhaps no other work Rachmaninoff ever composed so perfectly fits his own professional philosophy.

In the autumn of the following year, Rachmaninoff embarked upon his first American concert tour. In preparation for this event he composed his Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30. The world premiere took place in New York under Walter Damrosch, followed shortly by a concert at Carnegie Hall under Gustav Mahler. Of his four piano concertos, the D Minor contains the most challenging piano writing and is generally acknowledged as the finest overall (the composer certainly said as much himself). Indeed, there are few other major concertos that so thoroughly integrate the solo instrument with the orchestra.

Maestro de Waart leads the MSO in Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony and, accompanied by pianist Joyce Yang, the Third Piano Concerto at Uihlein Hall from Oct. 16-18.


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