Editor’s note: The Galveston Symphony Orchestra’s concert Sunday will feature a piano concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Music Director Trond Saeverud talked about the program.
Q. Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto is a wonderful piece. Please tell us about it. Why did you choose it?
A. Yes, it is one of my favorites — and also a favorite of our soloist. We chose it together, both looking forward to presenting this majestic, epic work.
Q. There are some stories that Rachmaninoff, who was known as a great pianist, stopped playing this piece after he heard Vladimir Horowitz play it. And a lot of us first heard this piece in an old recording Horowitz made with the New York Philharmonic. What does it require of a pianist? Why do some pianists love it so?
A. I didn’t know about those stories and must admit that I actually find Rachmaninoff’s own recordings even more inspiring than those by Horowitz. Both are, in my opinion, refreshingly free of unnecessary sentimentality while, instead, saving the extra passion for moments that demand it most.
This piece requires every possible aspect of advanced piano technique — and may be the most impressive piano concerto ever written. This may be why some pianists love it so — those who can play it!
Q. The pianist, Andrew Staupe, has played with the Galveston Symphony before. Last season, if memory serves, it was a Prokofiev concerto. Please tell us about him.
A. Yes, he did play Prokofiev with us — two years ago — and the orchestra is very happy to welcome him back. Andrew has been a soloist with major orchestras around the world and has collaborated with an impressive list of major artists. We are very fortunate to have him! And this time with a bonus performance: a recital at the Moody Mansion on Friday night.
Q. We also will hear from a famous American composer, Copland, along with a lesser known American composer and an English composer of African descent. How did you decide to pair the Rachmaninoff piece with the rest of the program?
A. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to tell about a small program change: We have recently engaged in a collaboration with Dickens on The Strand, and both Royal Highnesses Queen Victoria and Prince Albert will grace us with their Royal presence. We have therefor adjusted the program to become more English; replacing the lesser known composer (Robert Russell Bennett) with selections by Sir Arthur Sullivan of “Gilbert and Sullivan.”
Q. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English citizen of African descent. In America, where he had success in his 20s with a symphonic treatment of Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha,” he was sometimes called the African Mahler. America was not generally a welcoming place in the 1890s, but Coleridge-Taylor’s music was so popular he made three tours. How did you choose the “Ballade,” and how does it fit into the program?
A. Yes, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is a fascinating composer with an equally fascinating story! His music just now experiencing a resurgence of interest after many years of neglect. His Ballade is one of his most intense works — dramatic, emotional — connecting effectively to Rachmaninoff’s intensely personal and passionate concerto.
Q. And Copland — he’s certainly a famous American composer, but “John Henry” isn’t often heard, or at least there haven’t been many recordings. It was originally planned as a piece for a radio broadcast, wasn’t it? Please tell us about it.
A. I didn’t know about the radio broadcast. Will read about it now! I chose this overture for its effectiveness as program opener; short, energetic and, yes, not played too often. Copland uses percussion and special effects in the rest of the orchestra to describe John Henry’s competition with the “modern” automated hammer. Though a sad story, this is a fun piece that I think should be heard much more often!