Music News & Reviews

Symphony’s Fire and Ice combines a passionate pianist with scores from the icy north

Stewart Goodyear will perform with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra March 10-11.
Stewart Goodyear will perform with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra March 10-11. Courtesy photo

Pianist Stewart Goodyear calls Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2”, a “childhood love.”

“I heard this concerto as a kid, and I would play it over and over and over again,” Goodyear recalled in a phone interview. “Every time I played this piece, I always remember my excitement as a young boy listening to it.”

Goodyear returns to the Wichita Symphony for the first time since 2008 to headline two concerts next weekend at Century II.

Also featured in a concert the symphony is dubbing “Fire & Ice” is Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1” and Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 3.”

A composer himself, Goodyear said he admires the “lyrical genius of Rachmaninoff, just how the melody seems to be created almost organically,” he said. “It just happens.”

The pianist released an album of Rachmaninoff’s second and third concerti three years ago.

“As a composer, I’m just fascinated by how Rachmaninoff organizes the melodies,” Goodyear said. “His sense of timing is just exquisite.

“There are so many different layers to my appreciation of his concerto,” he added.

Born and raised in Toronto, Goodyear was born 40 years ago last month, shortly after his father’s death from cancer. He became connected to the man he never met through an extensive record collection. Although that collection included a good share of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, he didn’t hear the Rachmaninoff until he was an oldster of 4 years old.

Intrigued by the composer’s rhapsody from “Paganini” in his grandparents’ collection, he said he “coaxed” his mother into buying Rachmaninoff’s greatest hits from the Columbia Masterworks collection.

“I knew it was a composer I didn’t know much about,” he said. “I just wanted to learn more about him.”

By the time he began taking piano lessons at 7, the Rachmaninoff Second was “a concerto I always wanted to learn,” but not without its challenges.

“Inevitably I grew and my hands grew, so I could reach all of the octaves, and could finally conquer all of the technical difficulties,” he said of his teenage virtuosity. “I was so happy to take the plunge and learn the piece I had grown up with.”

Goodyear, who now lives in Philadelphia, said music has always been his love, knowing he wanted to perform the first time he saw a classical concert.

“It was my heartbeat. It was my way of communicating with people,” he said. “I was a very shy kid, and talking to people initially was a big deal because a wall had to be broken. But I loved to communicate, and the way I did that was through playing the piano. Music, to me, was community. It was connection.

“Music to me was humanity,” Goodyear added. “I grew towards that.”

Goodyear’s latest recording, a tribute to Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, will be released March 23.

But nothing compares to his “first love” of Rachmaninoff.

“The mission is to just keep that love through your skills and all you have prepared,” he said. “Throw that into a capsule, so everything happens organically. You feed off the audience give you and the vibe of the hall and the conductor’s interpretation.”

Every performance of the piece, he says, is different.

“It has to do with the way I connect with the conductor and the audience,” he said. “But it is always a profound experience.”

WICHITA SYMPHONY: ‘FIRE & ICE’

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 10 and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 11

Where: Century II concert hall, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $20 to $70, from wichitasymphony.org, by phone at 316-267-7658 or at the symphony box office

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