Romantic Masters

Saturday, September 21, 2013 | 8:00pm

Zeiterion Performing Arts Center
New Bedford, MA

Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 3

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3

Guest Artist:

To learn more about the concert, please join Dr. David MacKenzie for a free informal talk on the evening’s program at 7:00pm in the Penler Space, adjacent to the theater.

Brahms: Symphony No. 3

Brahms was unhappy with the public reception to the symphony’s performance… because it was too successful! The symphony was so popular with audiences that he was afraid that anything he wrote in the future would not be able to live up to the public’s expectations.

Notes from Maestro MacKenzie

This is quite simply my favorite symphony, and I think it is his finest work. Perfect in its form and its balance of warm Romantic spirit held in check by a Classical intellect of the highest order, no other work I know so skillfully blends grandness of expression with an introspective spirit.

There is also a bit of a secret in this work that I love. It is well known that Clara Schumann, wife of Brahms’ mentor and champion Robert Schumann, was an important figure for Brahms. It has been suggested that Brahms was in love with her, but that, even after Robert’s death, he could not bring himself to be other than a friend out of respect for Robert. To me it is interesting to note that here in the 3rd, Brahms’ most personal symphony, all of the melodies share a similar outline or contour – a falling away, sometimes anticipated by a recurring, rising shape, striving to reach a peak but always a falling away – which seems to me unfulfilled. There is a distinct sense of longing in that shape, and even in the happier or more "heroic" moments, these melodic contours provide an undertone of longing throughout the work.

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3

Featuring Keenan Reesor

Rachmaninoff wrote this concerto to perform on his first United States concert tour. (His American debut was at Smith College in Northampton, MA.) Of the four piano concertos he composed, many pianists consider this the most difficult, and some argue it is the most demanding piano concerto ever written.

Notes from Maestro MacKenzie

Rachmaninoff’s music is transporting; huge in its sweeping expressivity and meticulously crafted. For me, he is the Russian Romantic! I love this quote from him: "I try to make my music speak simply and directly that which is in my heart at the time I am composing…music is as much a part of my living as breathing and eating. I compose music because I must give expression to my feeling, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts."

Rachmaninoff was so rushed completing the score that he didn’t have time to learn to play it before he boarded a ship for New York. Since there was no piano on board ship, he took along a little cardboard practice keyboard and practiced and memorized the work without ever touching a real piano!

Did you know? In one of the first performances of this concerto, Rachmaninoff performed with the New York Philharmonic, and the great composer Gustav Mahler was the conductor. This collaboration between two composer-conductors deeply impressed Rachmaninoff because Mahler devoted such attention to the tiniest details of the accompanying orchestral part. The two became fast friends for a short time until Mahler passed away one year later.