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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra rocks with Rachmaninoff

Sergei Romaninoff, age 12/Wikimedia Commons

To hear guest pianist Garrick Ohlsson play Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto is to enjoy a sensual experience which is not plentiful enough in anyone’s life. 

At Strathmore last weekend, music lovers sat like statues without moving while Ohlsson and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played what is considered one of the most, if not the most, difficult of all piano concertos,  which was also the composer's (1873-1943) favorite piano concerto.

Garrick Ohlsson/

Some audience members draped over railings, others leaned forward with elbows on knees, chins resting on palms, hypnotized and afraid they might miss one of the many notes.  Equally as spellbound as their parents and grandparents were the young people who attended.

The hands of the pianist, who was the first American to win the International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition (1970), raced up and down the keyboard all night, crossing each other and moving almost as quickly as a hummingbird's wings.  

Ohlsson said later that memorization plays no role in his performance for he’s played Rach 3 “thousands of times,” and it has become part of his persona. His brain and fingers know what to do.

Maestro Marin Alsop and the orchestra complemented the pianist splendidly, and it was no surprise at the end when audience members, who filled the house, leaped up, applauding madly and shouting "Bravo" to four encores.
Conductor Marin Alsop/Opus 3 Artists

In a 30-minute conversation with audience members afterwards, Conductor Alsop said enthusiasm for the production helps her determine future programming, and the crowd cheered. 

Ohlsson began studies at Julliard when he was 13, and heard "Rach 3" the next year.   His teacher ordered him to play it at age 15 to avoid intimidation, he said.

Alsop and Ohlsson answered questions from the audience, bantering back and forth, quite at ease with themselves and each other. Approximately half the Strathmore house stayed late to listen.

Oh!  Crusted tilapia, couscous, and salad for $19.95 at the Strathmore restaurant. Great price and delicious, but the meal's pleasure is diluted by having to eat it on your lap because of insufficient tables and chairs.  Please, Strathmore.

Free parking at the Metro parking garage next door!

BSO concerts coming up at Strathmore:

Jan. 24:  Hairspray in Concert, 8 p.m.

Feb. 2:  Pictures at an Exhibition, 8 p.m. (Hindemith, Mozart, Mussorgsky by Ravel)

Feb. 7:  Stephen Hough plays Liszt

And on March 4 Ohlsson joins the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center to play Grieg's Piano Concerto No. 1.

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