From Russia With Love

“That was a program worthy of any professional orchestra in the world,” said Deb Vradenberg, cello, after the end of the concert on Friday. And indeed it was. Preparing two pieces that showcased both incredible technical difficulty and the amazing conducting prowess of Mr. Darger, to say nothing of the stunning talent of Josh Wright, was a huge adventure for the Symphony and a major stepping stone toward a new era of classical music in the region.

I’ve focused plenty on the intricacies of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, so let’s take this post to show a little love to Rachmaninov and his 3rd piano concerto.

Although Rachmaninov himself was known to play this piece at a steady, breakneck speed, other pianists (such as Vladimir Ashkenazy) who have recorded it since have continued to mold and shape it to help bring out the intricacies of the melody. Josh Wright performs this piece much in the same vein, pushing the tempo forward and pulling it back, now slowing it to a crawl then racing ahead as fast as his fingers could carry him. The end result is tear-jerkingly beautiful, however it presents a unique challenge to an orchestra and especially a conductor, as we have to be aware of those tempo changes and know them well enough that we can anticipate them. And we only have two and a half rehearsals with the soloist in which to do it.

Concertmaster Rachel France and Josh Wright talk about Mozart’s troubled youth. “He was a member of the Wolfgang…”

First, the orchestra must spend adequate rehearsal time weeks before the soloist arrives playing through the piece to establish a solid base.

Second, Josh recorded himself playing the piece and sent it to Lucas a week before his arrival so that Lucas could see and hear his tempo preferences.

On the Wednesday before the performance, the Symphony rehearsed with Josh for the first time, adjusting their speed and marking their parts accordingly.

Thursday, Josh and Lucas spent hours together going over the more difficult points of the piece where Lucas must know precisely where Josh is in his score, so that he can cue the rest of the musicians as needed. I don’t believe that this was part of Josh’s original rehearsal itinerary for Friday’s performance; just an awesome guy being awesome.

Thursday evening was dress rehearsal: the first time the Symphony performed the Rach 3 with Josh from beginning to end.

Lucas says to Josh “It’s because they kept saying Bach, Bach, Bach,” to explain why Mozart had killed all his chickens

Friday, before the performance, Josh and the Symphony did a final spot check of a few points.

And so was the journey to this masterful performance. We very much look forward to doing it again! Look out, Brahms and Beethoven!