In the pre-concert talk (photo, above) pianist Alessio Bax has to caution himself against talking about Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini too much lest “I make myself nervous,” he said. “There are a lot of challenges.”
Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell says the orchestra had the man for the job.
“A lot of artists try to put their stamp on the music,” Terrell says to the audience gathered in the Singletary Center for the Arts’ President’s Room. “This requires the pianist to take the music that’s there and bring out the colors in it. That takes a seasoned artist, and we have one tonight.”
Noting that Bax plays every summer in Lexington with the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Terrell said, “He’s a world-class pianist, we’ve wanted to have here a long time. It’s only taken three years.”
After playing the Star-Spangled Banner, the orchestra starts with Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos, a piece that sounds much like its name, clattering and blaring. At the pre-show, Terrell notes it was written for Leonard Slatikin and the National Symphony Orchestra and says the beauty of it is it uses a repeating pattern to create its world of growing energy. “It has three big arcs that lead you to the end” Terrell said. “It was a lot of fun to learn and play.”
That was America. It’s all Russian from here.
Bax and Terrell brought the mutual admiration society onto the stage, Terrell pointing out that the concert was the first of the Teresa Garbulinska initiative for new programs and emerging artists and noting the that Garbulinska’s widower, Ron Saykaly specified Bax be the first artist in the initiative.
Bax gives a crowd pleaser of a performance appropriately followed by the sounds of fireworks from Festival Latino a few blocks away during intermission.
Following the performance, Bax was in the lobby signing copies of his new Rachmaninoff CD, meeting old friends and getting a few serious offers to come back soon.
In his dressing room, he said, “It felt very good on the stage. We did a number of things different and everyone played right along. No one was on autopilot. We worked as a group well.”
When things are going that well, “we can make sounds and not just play notes.”
Having now experienced two Lexington area music groups, Bax said he thought the people and audience were the common thread.
“I feel very welcome here,” he said. “I imagine everyone does.”
After departing Lexington Saturday morning, Bax is off to travel the world with engagements in Denmark, Japan, Korea, Washington D.C., Dallas, Columbia and other locales.
(above: Bax is greeted after the concert by Dr. Ron Saykaly, whose new initiative in honor of his late wife supported Bax’s appearance.)
Heading backstage after intermission, Bax accidentally steered toward the stage. When told no one would mind if he went back out, he joked, “they would if I went to conduct Firebird.” Closing out the evening is Igor Stravinsky’s game-changing work.
Terrell recalled his first time conducting Firebird, when he was a student.
“As a student, you’re just trying to figure out the floor, the door, the window, the ceiling — how do we do this? You’re just trying not to mess up the orchestra.”
Terrell pointed out some of the challenges of the work and said, “It’s really a great way to show off the orchestra for the first concert of the season.”
He also recalled the 1910 premiere of of Firebird, which was met with jeers and hurled fruit.
“I would have loved to have been there,” Terrell said, “to hear those sounds for the first time.”
Judging by the enthusiastic audience response at this show, Terrell and the orchestra had a pretty good night.
A note after reading the review: I ran into percussionist James Campbell before Wednesday night’s rehearsal, and he said, “Any night you’re playing Stravinsky is a good night.” I guess it is.