Piano virtuoso Joyce Yang to join Wichita Symphony for Rachmaninoff concerto

10/20/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:34 AM

Eastern European folk melodies will mix with romantic concertos as the Wichita Symphony Orchestra performs three celebrated works. The evening’s highlight, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 in D Minor for Piano, provides the capstone both for the orchestra and for piano virtuoso Joyce Yang.

This exceedingly tricky and brilliant work demands interplay between the pianist and the orchestra. One of the most demanding concertos, Rachmaninoff 3, showcases the pianist’s virtuosity and the orchestra’s skill.

“The pyrotechnical requirements of the soloist to play this piece are astonishing,” said the company’s artistic director and conductor, Daniel Hege. “Not only does the soloist need great technical prowess, but she needs great strength and endurance to play through this work.”

This large symphonic work is considered one of the most difficult pieces written for piano. Throughout the piece, the pianist and the orchestra must interplay with ease.

“The entire orchestra and I have to finish each other’s sentences,” Yang said. “It’s a lot of give and take.”

Yang, a silver medal Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner, said that the pianist and members of the orchestra must also trust the conductor. Because of the interplay, both timing and nuances are crucial. Yang, who has worked with Hege before, said the piece is alive and turns out differently in each performance.

“He’s a very sensitive conductor and is ready for every change,” Yang said. “There’s such nostalgia and passion in this piece.”

Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) composed the third concerto during the summer of 1909. He was due in New York that fall. During his months of travel aboard a ship from Russia to the U.S., he did not have access to a piano, so the pianist and composer brought along a cardboard replica of a keyboard and practiced by using his imagination and memory of sound.

The concerto premiered with the New York Symphony Orchestra. One month later, Gustav Mahler conducted the dramatic work for the New York Philharmonic.

Yang said she lives and breathes the concerto before she plays it. This internationally sought-after pianist began playing the piano at age 4 in Seoul, Korea. Her aunt made the lessons fun and had the little girl convinced that it was a privilege to play.

“I had to finish eating my vegetables before I could play,” Yang said. “It (playing) was like eating cookies out of a cookie jar.”

Yang, whose parents are scientists, went on to graduate from The Juilliard School and received its Arthur Rubinstein Prize. In 2011, Yang released a solo album, “Collage,” which features piano works by Scarlatti, Liebermann, Debussy, Currier and Schumann. In 2014, her newest album, “Wild Dreams,” will feature piano works by Bartok, Schumann and Rachmaninoff.

Symphony classics by Johannes Brahms and Bela Bartok will precede this concerto by Russian-born Rachmaninoff.

Brahms’ (1833-1897) vibrant Hungarian Dances Nos. 1 and 5 will begin the evening. These short works have pleased audiences for more than a century. Inspired by Hungarian and Gypsy folk music, Brahms’ short works are vibrant and spirited.

“The Hungarian Dances always have a contrasting theme,” Hege said. “There’s a lot of variety.”

Hungarian Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin Suite” will follow Brahms’ short pieces. Bartok (1881-1945) composed this ballet from 1918-1919. Although as a ballet Bartok’s work was banned from several cities, the 19-minute concert piece excerpted from the ballet gained footing as a symphonic work and has become a standard in the repertory. The ballet takes place in a brothel. The music at the beginning accentuates the city sounds that can be heard from a window in an urban environment.

“The reason why it is so frequently performed is because it has so many exotic, sumptuous colors to it,” Hege said. “The music has alluring qualities. It has a wide variety of movements expressed through haunting melodies and beautiful orchestral colors and textures.”

The Mandarin’s ending is fast paced.

“It feels like the greatest chase scene for a movie,” Hege said. “It’s almost a maniacal dance at the end.”

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