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Pacific Symphony’s “Tchaikovsky Spectacular,” led by Carl St.Clair, lights up the sky with cannons, fireworks and audience favorites to conclude 2014 Summer Festival
Orange County, Calif. — August 12, 2014
Heart-pounding cannons, dazzling fireworks and rich, expressive music by Russian Romantics combine to create an exhilarating “Tchaikovsky Spectacular,” bringing “Mercedes-Benz presents Pacific Symphony’s Summer Festival 2014” to a dramatic close. Russia’s powerhouse pianist Rachmaninoff—known for composing thundering piano concertos to show off his own virtuosity—lends his “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” to the talents of Jon Nakamatsu, a California native and 10th gold medalist of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Mussorgsky’s vivid “Pictures at an Exhibition,” a musical evocation of the paintings by his late friend Viktor Hartmann, is performed in Ravel’s colorful orchestration with visual cues on the screen. Led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, the concert opens with some of Tchaikovsky’s incomparable dance music, the Waltz and Polonaise from “Eugene Onegin.” The evening concludes in grand tradition with the dramatic finale of fireworks and 16 cannon shots in Tchaikovsky’s victorious “1812” Overture, featuring the Huntington Beach Concert Band, which also provides pre-concert entertainment.
This aural and visual spectacle takes place Saturday, Aug. 30, at 8 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine. Concert tickets range from $25 (lawn seating) to $105 (orchestra seating); children under 14 are half price in most sections with the purchase of an adult ticket. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org. Summer Festival 2014 is also supported by the Orange County Register and media sponsors K-Earth 101, KPCC, KUSC and PBS SoCal.
“Jon Nakamatsu plays with the calm assurance that comes of having both a solid technique and a gentle, introspective, interpretive spirit.” —The New York Times.
“I started studying Rachmaninoff’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’ when I was about 19, and played it for the first time with an orchestra shortly thereafter,” says Nakamatsu. “It has been in my repertoire ever since, and I was able to record it back in 2000. I love the juxtaposition of raw energy and virtuosity (from both the pianist and the orchestra) with the most sublime lyricism and melodic innovation. This piece has become so popular that one forgets how sophisticated the writing actually is. Rachmaninoff was truly an amazing composer.”
Continuing to draw unanimous praise as a true aristocrat of the keyboard, Nakamatsu’s playing combines elegance, clarity and electrifying power—the ideal mixture needed for the inventiveness of “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Written as 24 variations on Paganini’s Capriccio in A Minor, its overall structure is similar to the fast-slow-fast arrangement of a concerto. The most famous is the soft and beautiful singing melody of the 18th variation, an inversion of the original, played in D-flat minor. Nakamatsu came to international attention when he was the top winner in the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He is the only American to have achieved this distinction since 1981.
“Every performance is intrinsically unique, just as no two moments in life are exactly alike,” says Nakamatsu. “However, even beyond issues such as differences in pianos, concert venues, orchestras, conductors, interpretations, etc., Rachmaninoff’s piece encourages a distinct feeling of improvisation and spontaneity that naturally leads performances in new directions. And that feeling is not necessarily generated by the soloist alone. All of us on stage participate in simultaneously communal and individual ways that profoundly influence the direction of the performance. It is a very exciting piece to hear live.”
The evening concludes with Tchaikovsky’s thrilling battle for orchestra, replete with fireworks, cannons and brassy martial sounds—opening the evening are Tchaikovsky’s Waltz and Polonaise from “Eugene Onegin,” each conveying the opera’s heroine, Tatiana, at different stages of her life. Also on the program is “Pictures at an Exhibition”; after artist Viktor Hartmann passed away, Mussorgsky was inspired to write a suite of piano pieces to memorialize his friend. The composer based the music on the drawings and watercolors that Hartmann created during his travels abroad. Today, the work remains a landmark example of Mussorgsky’s unmistakable voice, as well as a virtuosic showpiece for solo pianist and in its many orchestral versions, especially the Ravel orchestration performed during this concert.
Pianist Nakamatsu has performed widely in North America, Europe and the Far East, collaborating with such conductors as James Conlon, Marek Janowski, Raymond Leppard, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Osmo Vänskä and Hans Vonk. He also performed at a White House concert hosted by President Clinton and the First Lady. Nakamatsu studied privately with the late Marina Derryberry from the age of 6, and has worked with Karl Ulrich Schnabel, son of the great pianist Artur Schnabel. He has also studied composition and orchestration with Leonard Stein of the Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California, and pursued extensive studies in chamber music and musicology. Nakamatsu is a graduate of Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in German studies and a master’s degree in education.
“Just a few weeks after the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition, one of my first California dates was with Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony,” says Nakamatsu. “Of course, we performed at this very venue and, believe it or not, the composer was also Rachmaninoff (though not the Paganini Variations)! After having worked with Carl and his fantastic orchestra through the years (and even having recorded with them!), this will be a wonderful and nostalgic family reunion for me. I am a Californian myself and feel a special kinship toward my colleagues and the audiences here at home. I just can’t wait for the concert!”
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