Symphony Notes: Legendary music and last-minute substitutes – Traverse City Record Eagle

Partly cloudy early followed by cloudy skies overnight. Low 31F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph..
Partly cloudy early followed by cloudy skies overnight. Low 31F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.
Updated: January 15, 2023 @ 8:12 pm
Kevin Rhodes

Kevin Rhodes
The world of live performance is filled with stories about performers who fill in for someone at the last minute and have a big success fueled in part by the quasi “underdog” aspect of going on with little preparation. The great old film musical, “42nd Street” was one of the first cases of this trope being put on film when the understudy goes on with just a moment’s notice.
We have a situation with the upcoming January concert of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra which isn’t exactly like this, but does have some qualities in common with this old story.
Our originally scheduled soloist, Spencer Meyer who has been with us several times already, was going to play the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto. This nearly 45-minute-long concerto is the Matterhorn of romantic piano concertos. It is such a big hill to climb, that it was used as the work which causes the mental crises of pianist David Helfgott whose story was immortalized in the Academy Award winning film, “Shine.”
Thankfully, Spencer has had no mental breakdown at all, but circumstances beyond his control led to him needing to withdraw from our January concert. I asked him for any suggestions about a replacement pianist, and he immediately suggested his good friend and colleague, award-winning pianist Sean Chen. I of course knew many pianists who could come play this with us, but unless it is in an artist’s current repertoire for a season, finding someone who was available and ready to add it to their schedule on short notice is not so easy, so I was very grateful to get this recommendation.
This all means that we will have our own case of the “42nd Street” last-minute (almost) substitute for this mammoth in size and beauty concerto that is Rachmaninoff’s 3rd! I am very excited to meet Sean and work with him for this amazing piece. It is one of my absolute favorites of all time and truly has earned its status as one of the most beloved works ever written for piano and orchestra.
In addition to that work we will be playing one of the most played and beloved symphonies by the great master, Ludwig van Beethoven, his Symphony Nr. 7.
This work, like many pieces, has earned a subtitle which was not given by the composer himself, but no one less than Richard Wagner himself called it “The Symphony of the Dance.”
We don’t really know what Beethoven would’ve thought of this moniker, but time has proven it to be a name which has stuck. Indeed the work in three of its movements is incredibly lively, with infectious rhythms and themes which leave audiences singing and humming on their way out of the concert hall. The non-dance movement, is however one of the most sublime and heavenly collection of notes ever put on the page.
It is so much so, that I often barely want to continue the performance when we come to its conclusion. This is however one of the things which makes Beethoven so God-like in the minds of musicians and music lovers alike … his ability to work with the idea of contrasts, and juxtapose them in such a way that the emotional experience of hearing them all together is like having a rebirth in a way.
I can’t wait to get 2023 started with the the musicians and audiences of the TSO, welcome our almost last-minute incredible guest artists, Sean Chen to town and introduce him to our listeners and fans in this incredible program. I will admit I chose these pieces very specifically for this concert more than a year ago when planning the season, since I knew I would be having a busy fall conducting in Europe and wanted this return for me to our full orchestra performances to be with works I particularly love and want to play for our audiences. “
“RACH 3 + BEETHOVEN 7” is Jan. 22 at 3 p.m. at Corson Auditorium. If you have never been to one of our concerts or an orchestra concert in general, there could hardly be one I know would be a better first experience than this one.
Kevin Rhodes is Traverse Symphony Orchestra’s artistic director and principal conductor.
Kevin Rhodes
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