Resplendent Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 2
May 11, 2024 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm MDT
Celebrate 100 years of exceptional music in Fort Collins with Rachmaninoff’s captivating Piano Concerto No. 2.
Saturday, May 11, 2024
7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Pre-Concert Lecture at 6:30
Lincoln Center Main Stage
417 W. Magnolia St.
Fort Collins, CO 80521
(or via livestream)
$25-67 adult, $10 student/child
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Our season closes with music that has captivated audiences in concert halls, movie theaters, and figure skating arenas for 123 years: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, performed by pianist Zhu Wang and your Fort Collins Symphony.
Béla Bartók’s Dance Suite kicks off the uplifting energy of the evening with a vibrant suite of dances pulsating with rhythm and melody. The concert concludes with the serenity of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, a tranquil masterpiece that whispers with songs of nature.
Don’t miss this chance to celebrate a century of music with your Fort Collins Symphony.
On this concert:
Dance Suite, by Béla Bartók
Piano Concerto No. 2, by Sergei Rachmaninoff
Featuring award-winning pianist Zhu Wang
Intermission: 20 min
Symphony No. 2, by Johannes Brahms
Free week-of-concert events:
Join CSU professor Dr. K. Dawn Grapes on the Wednesday prior to most Signature concerts for an entertaining and informative lecture about the upcoming featured composers. Light refreshments. Sponsored by the Friends of the Symphony.
Wednesday, May 8, 2024
12:00 – 1:00 PM, at the Old Town Library
Learn firsthand what it takes for an orchestra to bring live music to the stage. Houselights remain on during this comfortable preview of each upcoming Signature concert. The rehearsal closes to the public at 8:30 p.m. intermission.
Thursday, May 9, 2024
7:00 – 8:30 PM, at the Lincoln Center
Prior to each Signature concert, join Maestro Wes Kenney for a pre-concert talk about the music you will hear.
Saturday, May 11, 2024
6:30 – 7:00 PM, at the Lincoln Center
Included with ticket purchase
FCS Sponsors and Advertisers:
Arts Without End Foundation
Dr. David and Alison Dennis
Dr. Ed Siegel
Dr. Peter Springberg
Season 23-24 “Then & Now” is dedicated in loving memory of John Roberts.
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Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes
Date of Composition: 1923
Duration: 17 minutes
Hungarian composer, conductor, and pianist Béla Bartók (1881–1945) was born in Nagyszentmiklós, a town that now lies within Romanian borders. He spent his childhood in various locations in present-day Ukraine and Slovakia before commencing music studies at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. At the time, the city was not yet thirty years old, for in 1873, Buda, Óbuda, and Pest—three towns on opposite sides of the Danube—were joined to become the new capital, a metropolis that would soon rival other commercial centers in Europe. In 1923, twenty years after Bártók completed his education, the Budapest city council planned a fiftieth anniversary celebration. As part of the event, they commissioned works from established Hungarian composers. Ernő Dohnányi supplied an orchestral overture and Zoltán Kodály produced a multi-movement cantata for soloist, choir, and orchestra.
Bártók, by then one of the most respected composers to emanate from the Hungarian empire, turned to the music he most cherished—folksong—to create a six-movement Dance Suite. Although the council’s motivations may have been insular, Bártók used the opportunity to celebrate many different communities represented within the population of his homeland. Each movement is fully composed, not drawing upon actual folk melodies but instead imitating the North African, Romanian, Arabic, and Hungarian styles Bártók heard in his travels. The first four movements each retain an individual character and are linked by a Hungarian-esque ritornello. This recurring theme provides continuity and grounds the work in Bártók’s homeland. The fifth movement reveals Bártók’s hope for a unified humanity. He later described the section as having a “primitive peasant character” that “must give up any classification according to nationality.” Serving as a true finale, this final movement brings together musical material from all that came before, aurally reflecting the composer’s dream for a future where all ethnic communities might join as one in song.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, op. 18
Date of Composition: 1900–1901
Duration: 34 minutes
In the early twentieth century, composers were experimenting with increasingly intellectual methods of composition. Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943) ignored contemporary trends and today retains a place in music history as one of the most romantic of all composers. The Russian-born artist’s success resulted from a combination of his natural compositional and performance talents and his international tours, during which he performed and conducted his own works. As a pianist, he felt music intensely. As a composer, he wrote music in which he—and the audience—could revel in heartfelt emotion.
Rachmaninoff wrote his first piano concerto while studying at the Moscow Conservatory. It would be another decade before he produced a second. In the interim, his first symphony flopped at its 1897 premiere. Criticism was harsh. For the next three years, depression overcame him. His inspiration withered, forcing cancellation of a commission he had received for a new piano concerto. A breakthrough finally came in 1900, thanks to daily hypnotherapy sessions with Dr. Nicolai Dahl, who drilled Rachmaninoff with suggestions such as “You will begin to write your concerto. You will work with great facility. Your concerto will be of excellent quality.” The technique worked, for by the end of the year, a new solo work was well underway. Fittingly, Rachmaninoff dedicated the concerto to his doctor.
After the November 1901 premiere, in which the composer soloed with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra to a wildly appreciative audience, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor quickly became a favorite piano showcase.The work is sumptuous, a sonic wash of emotion. Several of the themes Rachmaninoff created have since been adapted as popular songs, most notably the third movement’s later rendition as “Full Moon and Open Arms,” recorded by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, The Platters, Bob Dylan, and others. As for the composer, he and his family left Russia after the 1917 Revolution, never to return to the USSR. Like Bartók, he eventually settled in the United States. Rachmaninoff took his vow of citizenship in 1943, less than two months before he died.
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 73
Date of Composition: 1877
Duration: 43 minutes
Although Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) was born and raised in the German town of Hamburg, he spent much of his adulthood in Vienna, where he gained a reputation as a bit of an eccentric. An introvert by nature, he often exhibited a carefully cultivated brusque persona that kept all but his closest friends at a distance. Even so, recollections of those who knew him well, as well as numerous letters he penned, reveal a man of wit and tenderness who appreciated all kinds of beauty, whether found in natural surroundings or in the strains of a favorite song.
As a young man, Brahms devoted a great deal of time to studying music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. He also held a certain reverence for the Classical era greats who came before him. Thus, his music finds solid footing in the past. He appreciated the foundation provided by established forms such as theme and variations and sonata-allegro, and he used them to structure many of his instrumental works. At a time when literary-inspired programmatic music called for newer, more adaptable forms and genres, Brahms’s choice to compose sonatas, quartets, and symphonies was interpreted by some as conservative and old-fashioned. Contemporaneous musicologist Wolfgang Sandberger even labelled his music “altdeutsch” (old German). And yet Brahms took those genre and forms and adapted them to his own needs, demonstrating intellectual innovations that lurk beneath the surface. In fact, in 1933 Arnold Schoenberg recognized him as “Brahms, the Progressive.”
Much has been made of the amount of time it took Brahms to complete his First Symphony—more than fourteen years. Some say this was due to enormous pressure put upon him by an article written by mentor Robert Schumann, in which he was declared the German musical successor to Beethoven. Certainly this weighty prophesy was exacerbated by Brahms’s exacting nature, which caused him to revise many of his works and even destroy those he felt were subpar in any way. By the time Brahms finished his first full symphony in 1876, he was already well established as a performing pianist, conductor, and composer. He did not need the symphony to solidify his artistic standing, but its success moved him onto a new level of accomplishment. The event also released something within him, for it was only a year later that he completed a second. The composer found inspiration for his Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 73 during a summer vacation at Lake Wörthersee in Pörtschach, Austria. Of his time there, he wrote, “The first day was so beautiful that I absolutely wanted to spend the second here, and the second so beautiful that I stay on for now!”
The Second Symphony is often described as the most melodious and sunny of Brahms’s four, but such statements do not look beyond a luminous veneer. Much like the man himself, the work presents bipolar moments of light and darkness, as well as brooding, wistfulness, contentment, and excitement, all framed in a rich depth of orchestral splendor. Themes in each of the four movements grow organically from a three-note opening fragment heard in the low strings, tying the piece together in cyclic cohesion. The symphony is at once charming, heartfelt, and substantial, fulfilling the promise foreseen by Schumann so many years earlier.
© Dr. K. Dawn Grapes, 2023