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Orchestral Tour De Force and thundering piano chords combine for Pacific Symphony concert, featuring Korean pianist Joyce Yang playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1

November 14, 2013

Carl ConductsGorgeous and grand, one of the repertoire’s most-loved and instantly recognizable concertos, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, becomes the centerpiece of an orchestral showcase led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, continuing Pacific Symphony’s 35th anniversary season. Demanding virtuosity and superb technique to deliver its pounding parallel chords and rapid finger work, Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece is in the skillful hands of Korean pianist Joyce Yang, who has been hailed by the Washington Post for her “poetic and sensitive pianism… capable of hurtling thunderbolts.” Yang returns to the Symphony after a performance two seasons’ ago of another Russian masterwork, Rachmaninoff’s Third, when she was praised by the Orange County Register for her “genuine enthusiasm” and “singing elegance.” The evening opens with Glinka’s joyous Overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla,” showing off the orchestra with loud, fast and virtuosic playing. The finale then bursts with color as each of the instruments are treated like soloists in Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra.”

Capturing passionate musical statements throughout, the concert takes place Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 12-14, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$185; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“During the 35th anniversary season of Pacific Symphony, I wanted to feature the orchestra, and what better way than to program a concerto for the entire ensemble?” says Maestro St.Clair. “Bartók’s concerto is one of the great masterworks composed in the 20th century, and remains a tour de force for every orchestra! Combining this with one of, if not the most, beloved concertos—the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1—seemed just the right combination for a December, pre-holiday classical evening.”

In 1875, critics and soloists deemed Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto technically unplayable, but now it is performed by orchestras and pianists across the globe. With its explosive opening chords and lyrical melodies, Tchaikovsky composed a concerto that the great American pianist Van Cliburn interpreted to win the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958. Contemporary pianists continue to play his first piano concerto with bold, dramatic keystrokes that produce rippling passages of beautiful music.

Joyce Yang“Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto always takes me on a journey,” says pianist Yang. “The piece takes off with a big melody and ends with an even larger one, and there are hundreds of hills and valleys in between. Each movement has drama, grandeur, beauty...all juxtaposed into one great soundscape. The orchestra and the soloist often take turns introducing different melodies—revealing different textures and colors to the same melody.”

“[Joyce Yang] glittered and roared… feisty and ever witty”—Dallas Morning News

Often regarded as the father of Russian classical music, Mikhail Glinka discovered a way to rouse the spirits of players and listeners alike with his buoyant Overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla.” Effusive admiration for the overture’s joyous melodies and showy flourishes gradually replaced the opera’s initial cool reception. Its fast pace and boisterous spirit sets the musicians in a race to the finish that captures the overall character of the opera.

Béla Bartók was one of classical music’s most transformative figures with his major works recognized as masterpieces. Shattering musical conventions by combining nationally distinctive folk songs with modern compositional techniques, Bartók crafted a voice saturated with individualism and nationalism. His concerto for orchestra is closely related to the Baroque form of the concerto grosso, featuring foreground and background instruments arranged around a concertino of several soloists.

“The idea that this was a concerto for orchestra was relatively new,” describes St.Clair. “Through Bartók’s work, you will hear incredibly soloistic, almost concerto-like, sections for solo flute, trumpet and oboe. There is one whole movement of just combinations of duets. There are long sections written just for virtuoso brass, percussion and string writing, so it gets the name concerto because each movement of the piece puts the focus on certain instruments in the orchestra.”

Pianist Yang captivates audiences across the globe with her virtuosity, lyricism and magnetic stage presence. At just 27, she has established herself as one of the leading artists of her generation through her innovative solo recitals and collaborations with the world’s top orchestras. In 2010 she received an Avery Fisher Career Grant, one of classical music’s most prestigious accolades. Yang came to international attention in 2005 when she won the silver medal at the 12 th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The youngest contestant, she took home two additional awards: the Steven De Groote Memorial Award for Best Performance of Chamber Music (with the Takàcs Quartet) and the Beverly Taylor Smith Award for Best Performance of a New Work.

“I had a wonderful time playing Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto in 2011-12 with Pacific Symphony,” remarks Yang. “I remember being able to take chances during the concert and feeling confident that the orchestra will be right there with me. I am truly looking forward to bringing another Russian warhorse to Orange County. I hope we can recreate this masterpiece from a new light.”