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This preview has been provided by the North Carolina Symphony.
"Opening the season with an all-Rachmaninoff program will mean wonderful tunes, thick orchestrations, and a lushness that's unbeatable," says North Carolina Symphony Principal Flute Anne Whaley Laney. "Romanticism at its height!"
NCS musicians and Music Director Grant Llewellyn are eager to share the depth of emotion in Rachmaninoff's music, from his early symphonic poem The Rock – never before performed by NCS – to his final composition, the Symphonic Dances. The opening-weekend program, An Evening of Rachmaninoff, takes place September 22 and 23 at Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh. NCS, as well music-lovers throughout the Triangle, are looking forward to the return appearance of pianist Natasha Paremski, who first wowed NCS audience members with her stunning virtuosity at a 2016 Summerfest concert.
Paremski, 30, will join NCS to perform Rachmaninoff's famous Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which has been a mainstay of her repertoire since she was 14 years old. Her recording of that work with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra was praised as an "electric, powerhouse performance."
"I've grown a lot with Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody, discovering all the different layers that are part of this incredible masterpiece," explains the Moscow-born pianist. "I'm still peeling the layers – and I'm sure 30 years from now, there will still be more to uncover."
Rachmaninoff had initially planned to write a ballet based on Paganini, who – as legend has it – was given the choice to either become the greatest violin virtuoso who ever lived or to find true love with the woman of his dreams. The concept instead became a set of 24 variations, built on a theme from Paganini's final Caprice for solo violin and structured into three groups to resemble the traditional fast-slow-fast form of a concerto. Yet, all the drama of the Paganini legend remains. In the passionate 18th variation, for example, we hear a waltz meant to represent Paganini's temptress waltzing into his life.
An Evening of Rachmaninoff opens with another work with clear elements of dramatic narrative. The symphonic poem The Rock – composed when Rachmaninoff was 20 years old – was inspired by Russian writer Anton Chekhov's story about a gruff middle-aged man and a young woman stranded together at a roadside inn during a Christmas Eve blizzard. In the music, we hear both the raging storm outside and the emotion as the two strangers open up to one another.
"The Rock indicates the genius orchestral writer that was to come – Rachmaninoff was an absolutely masterful orchestrator" says Llewellyn. "And the Symphonic Dances displays a kaleidoscope of the most vivid orchestral colors. It's my favorite orchestral piece by Rachmaninoff."
Completed in 1940, the set of Symphonic Dances was Rachmaninoff's final work, written after a four-year hiatus from composing. Forced out of Russia by World War I, he was living in America and was devastatingly homesick for his native land. He composed the piece at his idyllic retreat on the Long Island Sound and, perhaps as a nod to American jazz, gave a prominent line to the alto saxophone. Still, there is unmistakable heartache in the Symphonic Dances, with its inconsolable restlessness and wistful melodies.
Rachmaninoff, the ultimate Romantic, explained it best himself: "I try to make the music speak directly and simply that which is in my heart at the time I am composing."
Concert-goers are invited to learn more about Rachmaninoff and his music at the Symphony's free pre-concert talks in the Swalin Lobby of Meymandi Concert Hall at 7pm prior to each performance.
The North Carolina Sympony gratefully acknowledges our Weekend Sponsor, Clancy & Theys Construction Company.
North Carolina Symphony
An Evening of Rachmaninoff
Friday & Saturday, September 22 & 23 at 8pm (pre-concert talks at 7pm)
Meymandi Concert Hall
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts (Raleigh)
North Carolina Symphony
Grant Llewellyn, conductor
Natasha Paremski, piano
Rachmaninoff: The Rock
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances
TICKETS START AT $18
Online: ncsymphony.org (TicketMaster fees apply)
By phone: 919.733.2750 ($8 processing fee applies)
In-person: NCS State Headquarters, 3700 Glenwood Ave., Suite 130, Raleigh (No processing fee)
About the North Carolina Symphony
Founded in 1932, the North Carolina Symphony (NCS) is a vital and honored component of North Carolina's cultural life. Its 175 concerts and events annually are greeted with enthusiasm by adults and schoolchildren in more than 90 North Carolina counties – in communities large and small, and in concert halls, auditoriums, gymnasiums, restaurants, clubs, and outdoor settings. The Symphony's full-time professional musicians perform under the artistic leadership of Music Director Grant Llewellyn.
NCS's state headquarters venue is the spectacular Meymandi Concert Hall at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh. The Symphony's service across the state includes series in Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, New Bern, Southern Pines, and Wilmington, as well as the Summerfest series at its summer home, the outdoor Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. Collaborating with performers that range from classical artists, to banjo players, to jazz bands, NCS brings some of the world's greatest musicians to North Carolina and embraces home-state talent.
Committed to engaging students of all ages across North Carolina, NCS leads the most extensive education program of any symphony orchestra – serving nearly 70,000 students each year. In alignment with the curriculum set by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the Symphony provides training and resources for teachers, sends small ensembles into classrooms, and presents full-orchestra Education Concerts that bring the fundamentals of music to life. Music Discovery for preschoolers combines music with storytelling, and at the middle and high school levels, students have opportunities to work directly with NCS artists and perform for NCS audiences.
NCS is dedicated to giving voice to new art, and has presented 47 U.S. or world premieres in its history. In March 2017, NCS appeared at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as one of four orchestras chosen for the inaugural year of SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras – an honor that recognized the Symphony's creative programming and innovative community partnerships.
The first state-supported symphony in the country, NCS performs under the auspices of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. To learn more, visit ncsymphony.org.