Monday morning we start rehearsals for our first classical series concerts. It’s a program that pretty much has something for everyone. It includes a charming suite by the Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén, an engaging and colorful work from 2005 by Andrew Norman entitled Drip (but formerly called Drip, Blip, Sparkle, Spin, Glint, Glide, Glow, Float, Flop, Chop, Pop, Shatter, Splash), Portland favorite pianist Jon Kimura Parker plays one of Mozart’s most beloved piano concertos, and concludes with Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.
I have, as I suppose many veteran orchestral musicians do, a mixed relationship with the music of Rachmaninoff. Most often I experience his music through two of his four piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 3). They are fun to play and feature incredible feats of virtuosity for pianists to conquer, but they just don’t feel terribly deep and meaningful compared to most of the other piano concerto repertoire, especially by the Germanic composers. Rachmaninoff’s orchestral pieces are much less often performed – though we did do the Second Symphony quite often with James DePriest – but they have a bit more depth of expression than the concertos do. The Dances, especially, seem to plumb depths that most of his other compositions do not attempt to reach. In particular, the incredibly beautiful coda to the first movement, with the bells and flutes sparkling over the arching lines of the rich, sul-G strings – it to me equals anything written by any other great composer: