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Symphony vs. Concerto: Know the Difference?

Peter Johnson
David Korevaar, Chair of the Keyboard Department, CU-Boulder

What's the very height of musical-excitement in the classical universe? Opera aside, we have a strong candidate for you: the swan song of Sergei Rachmaninoff's concerto-works, his thrilling Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini!

(In this feature, hear professor and soloist David Korevaar at his office grand piano discussing and playing highlights of this dazzler....)

Late in life, Russian Sergei Rachmaninoff, one of the piano-greats in history (in addition to being a busy conductor and composer), harked back a century to another legendary instrumentalist, Nicolo Paganini, to write his final concerto work.

Paganini's famous melody in his 24th solo violin caprice enchanted many composers, notably Liszt, Schumann, and Brahms. But Rachmaninoff crafted the most memorable and brilliant use of this tune, a set of demanding variations for piano and orchestra.

So hot was Paganini's violin-playing that rumors circulated he'd sold his soul to the devil in return for superhuman talent and a beautiful woman, too, of course. Rachmaninoff loved the surrounding drama. So within this exciting concerto-work of soloist, orchestra, and conductor underlies another dramatic triangle.

The pianist represents Paganini, with the variations containing the medieval Day-of-Wrath melody the specter of evil, and the famous lush eighteenth variation his object of love. Rachmaninoff later blessed a ballet using this music with the story line. And Hollywood was never the same after that cherished eighteenth variation.

This weekend The Fort Collins Symphony performs this 1934 masterpiece of classical variations in an all-Russian program lead by maestro Wes Kenney and with pianist David Korevaar, head of the Keyboard Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Professor Korevaar's late teacher, the esteemed pianist Earl Wild, was an acquaintance of Rachmaninoff and revered his piano artistry.

Shchedrin Symphony Fanfares (Festive Overture)
Rachmaninov Rhapsody on Theme of Paganini
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

Saturday, May 19, 7:30pm, at The Lincoln Center, Fort Collins

Sunday, May 20, 2:00pm, at The Roberta Price Auditorium of Thompson Valley High School, Loveland

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