A year ago, the Seattle Symphony challenged the city’s post-holiday malaise with a winning concept: two nights of Rachmaninov concertos played by prizewinning young pianists just hitting their stride on the international concert circuit.
That combination of an immersive musical experience, tied to a single composer, and a first encounter with rising talent proved a hit, selling out both evenings at Benaroya Hall.
The program was affectionately called “Rach Fest,” and if the tongue-in-cheek title of this year’s follow-up program — “Tchaikfest! ”— doesn’t have the same punning cachet, the event promises to be just as rewarding.
Yes, that’s “Tchaikfest!” as in a Tchaikovsky festival of four concertos, three for piano and one for violin, taking place over two concerts. The accent once again is on youthful yet accomplished guest artists, including visiting conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, busy music director of both the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico and the Louisiana Philharmonic.
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Piano duties will be split between St. Petersburg, Russia, native Alexander Lubyantsev, who took a Special Critics Prize at the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition, and Boris Giltburg, born in Moscow but raised in Tel Aviv and winner of the first prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels last year.
On Thursday, Lubyantsev will perform the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, while Giltburg will handle Concerto No. 2 in G major. The two pieces, from the 1870s, are historically linked by Tchaikovsky’s relationship with piano virtuoso Nikolai Rubinstein. The two fell out over the former and reconciled over the latter, though Rubinstein — to whom the second concerto was dedicated — died before he could perform the work’s premiere.
Despite that somber origin, Giltburg (who was practicing the piece when reached by phone in Tel Aviv) finds Concerto No. 2 a buoyant experience.
“It’s very uplifting,” he says. “This is my first time playing it, and I find I’m in a better mood after playing it than I was before.”
Giltburg will also perform the single-movement Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-flat major on Friday, Jan. 17.
“Tchaikovsky’s concertos I find a lot of fun to play,” says Giltburg.
“They’re extremely effective, with beautiful melodies, one after another. He knows how to create atmosphere and a sense of space. They’re each highly individual pieces of music. I try to approach each on its own merits.”
Also on Friday’s bill is the composer’s Violin Concerto in D major, performed by Japanese violinist Mayuko Kamio, gold medalist at the 2007 International Tchaikovsky Competition.
In an email, Kamio says the concerto is “more than just standard repertoire for me. This was the piece that I really wanted to play as a child. I first performed it when I was 11 with the Osaka Philharmonic.
“It has the most beautiful melodies. The piece is persistent and assertive, and flows endlessly, but not like a watery river. So I try not to rush, but I also try not to relax and become static. Each time I’m on stage with a big symphonic orchestra performing this piece, I’m filled with such joy.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org