The Breckenridge-based National Repertory Orchestra will play its final performance of the season, titled “Fantastic Finale,” tonight at the Riverwalk Center. Music director Carl Topilow will conduct the concert, and pianist Yu Zhang will perform Rachmaninoff’s passionate First Piano Concerto.
The concert program opens with the well-known “Overture to The Barber of Seville,” by Gioacchino Rossini — most commonly recognized through the Looney Tunes episode “Rabbit of Seville,” in which Bugs Bunny gives Elmer Fudd a musical makeover. This delightful, eight-minute piece will leave the audience humming its themes for the rest of the evening.
Following the Rossini is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto in F-Sharp Minor, Opus 1.
“Still a student at the Moscow Conservatory, Sergei Rachmaninoff composed his Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor, Op. 1, in 1891,” Zhang said. “He adapted the entire musical structure of the outer movements to the Grieg concerto, literally building his music into it. In 1917, he revised the work thoroughly but still looked upon it as a figment of young adulthood.
“Of all the revisions Rachmaninoff made to various works, this one was perhaps the most successful. Rachmaninoff said to a friend, ‘I have rewritten my First Concerto; it is really good now. All the youthful freshness is there, and yet it plays itself so much more easily.’”
Revel in Rachmaninoff
Rachmaninoff is one of the biggest names as a composer of piano concerti, and his reputation largely rests on his four concertos. Three years after composing his first concerto, Rachmaninoff premiered his first symphony, which was a complete failure. This threw him into severe depression, and he spent nearly five months in psychotherapy with Dr. Nikolai Dahl. When he finally recovered, he wrote his second piano concerto and dedicated it to Dahl.
This tremendously successful second concerto might be the most popular piano concerto in the repertoire. His third, possibly more than any other concerto by any other composer, is the choice of first-place winners in piano competitions. In his concertos, Rachmaninoff not only expanded piano technique beyond anything composed since Franz Liszt but also presented the audience with crowd pleasers, blending romantic sentimentality and Russian sense of self.
Zhang, from Yibin, China, is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Musical Arts program at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In April 2007, Zhang appeared as a guest concerto soloist with the University of Wyoming Symphony Orchestra. Most recently, he was a semifinalist of the 2011 Seattle International Piano Competition and the winner of the 2010 MTNA Young Artist Piano Performance Northwest Division Competition. His teachers have included Paul Schenly, Kathryn Brown, Joela Jones and Dr. Theresa Bogard.
The second half
In the second half of the concert program, the NRO will perform Jennifer Higdon’s “Blue Cathedral” and finish with Ottorino Respighi’s “Roman Festivals.” Higdon, one of the most successful living American composers, has won the Pulitzer Prize in Music, as well as a Grammy Award.
“As I was writing this piece, I found myself imagining a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky,” Higdon writes in her program notes. Join the NRO on an imaginative journey that, in Higdon’s words, takes the listener to “a place of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge and growth.”
The National Repertory Orchestra’s 54th season closes with Respighi’s “Roman Festivals,” which will send the audience home with a mood of pure celebration.
“The work is a tone poem depicting scenes from ancient Rome, each of the four movements suggesting a specific celebration,” said Douglas Adams, CEO of the National Repertory Orchestra. Roman Moore from Krystal 93 Radio will provide narration for “Roman Festivals.” After Respighi completed this work, he said he felt he could achieve nothing further with such mammoth forces. The NRO truly hopes that the audience enjoys this roof-raising work, the perfect send-off for the season, and that the audience will leave hungry for more outstanding music next year.
Amy Skjerseth is the marketing and public relations intern with the National Repertory Orchestra.
The concert program opens with the well-known “Overture to The Barber of Seville,” by Gioacchino Rossini — most commonly recognized through the Looney Tunes episode “Rabbit of Seville,” in which Bugs Bunny gives Elmer Fudd a musical makeover.