The celebrated musician will perform “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” April 13-15 as a guest of Seattle Symphony. Olari Elts will be the guest conductor.
In a 2014 commentary published in The Telegraph, of London, the ever-eloquent Stephen Hough — one of the most celebrated pianists of our age and guest of the Seattle Symphony April 13-15 — addressed the problem of performance anxiety for concert musicians.
After describing the “fear of being rejected … [the] exposure to judgment,” the British-born Hough, 56, proffered a Big Picture perspective on transcending ego: “[W]hat better ambition can there be … [than] to leave self-obsession behind and take the audience on a journey across the high wire of Beethoven or the flying trapeze of Liszt.”
Keeping out of his own way as a deeply reflective interpreter of piano repertoire informs Hough’s creative sensibility, including frequent performances of Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which he will play at Benaroya Hall under the baton of guest conductor Olari Elts.
With Olari Elts, conductor, and pianist Stephen Hough, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. Friday (a shorter “Untuxed” program) and 8 p.m. Saturday (April 13-15) at Benaroya Hall, Seattle; tickets from $13 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
“I’m constantly amazed at what a miracle of construction the ‘Rhapsody’ is,” says Hough in a phone interview from Hong Kong. “While it doesn’t have endless depth of humanity, you don’t feel that any bar in the piece could be cut out. You need every one, and the balance of it all is beautiful. It’s like a very elegant building; it just works.”
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Written by the late-Romantic Russian pianist and conductor in 1934, the “Rhapsody” was one of only a handful of compositions he completed after moving to the U.S. Another was the 1940 “Symphonic Dances,” which is also on the SSO bill.
That Paganini “theme” refers to the final and best-known caprice in the Italian composer’s “24 Caprices for Solo Violin,” completed in 1817. The fiery, demanding piece, along with some of the other caprices, have served as the basis for numerous original works — including by Schumann and Brahms — that explore multiple variations on Paganini’s music.
That’s precisely the aim of Rachmaninov’s “Rhapsody,” comprising 24 variations on the 24th caprice. Of these, the 18th variation is the best-known, recognizable from film soundtracks such as “Groundhog Day” and “Ronin.”
“Many people who don’t like Rachmaninov’s style consider the ‘Rhapsody’ his masterpiece,” says Hough. “It’s written fantastically well for orchestra and piano. He combines a lot of effervescence with a deep, Romantic spirit.
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