Why Rachmaninov, Copland and Symphony Orchestras Keep Us Moving

There is an intense wheel many of us find ourselves on, much like hamsters. The wheel of life continues to spin, filled with activity, but there seems to be no end to the mounting responsibilities. As it circles with us in it, we attempt to grab at things that linger on the outside, things we hope will slow us down instead of add to our burden. And sometimes we do slow down, long enough to enjoy that special something that keeps us from giving out on that wheel.

For me, often the burden is preparation and travel to a particular destination, like attending a symphony concert. I have to put the guilt of increasing to-do lists aside for a brief moment of repose. Thankfully, I’m never disappointed. I psych myself up for the music I am going to hear or the performer I will observe and though my evening is lengthy, the music lingers long after the concert and my wheel is not so burdensome when I begin my next run.

Pianist Arnaldo Cohen

The April 20 concert of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra was already a thrill to me before I walked through the doors. They were going to perform Sergei Rachmaninov’s (1873-1943) Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, op. 18 and as I’ve already mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve had an extensive love affair with the composer. You can read about it here. So I won’t loiter on the piece itself, but allow me to drool a bit over the pianist, Arnaldo Cohen.

The concerto requires a certain level of dynamic precision, refinement and heightened color and Arnaldo achieved this from the very first few fabulous measures. There is that dramatic, sensual waltz between pianist and orchestra and Arnaldo and the JSO waltzed their finest. There was something in Arnaldo’s manner that made you like him, as well as his performance.

The audience certainly did. He received multiple cheers and bravos and what could he do but perform again? So he and Conductor Fabio Mechetti returned to the stage and both pianist and orchestra performed the last few measures of the epic final movement. That wasn’t enough for the hungry audience and Arnaldo pleased them with a dinner mint—Frederic Chopin’s (1810-1849) Waltz No. 6, “Minute,” op. 64, No. 1 (Ah! Chopin and Rachmaninov in the same night? I almost fainted). There is no doubt my expectations were high before I arrived. Thanks to Arnaldo, my expectations were met and are higher than ever.

Aaron Copland’s (1900-1990) Appalachian Spring: Suite was another piece I looked forward to hearing because Copland is a kind of visionary, yet he maintains a familiarity and down-to-earth style with his works.

The music is extraordinarily unflustered and captivating from the very beginning of Appalachian Spring. Copland draws us into an arena of simplicity with the clarinet, flute, oboe and bassoon and the gentle hum of the strings. One wakes to the sunrise in the mountains of Pennsylvania at the turn of the 19th century. Then we visualize the bustle of farm life as the strings approach the music like the wake-up call from the roosters and we see the farmers sweating in their fields.

Copland wrote the original Appalachian Spring as a commission for dancer Martha Graham. It is a story in which a newlywed couple begin their life in a freshly-built Pennsylvania farmhouse at the turn of the 19th century and they express their various emotions of life, including their highs and lows, through dance. The piece was later revamped into a suite for orchestra.

Both of these major works still hum to me as I set about another busy week. But this is precisely why I pause on my wheel, long enough to absorb the music, which enables me to smile and move on again.

What is it that keeps you moving on the wheel of life?

Upcoming Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Performance:
May 10 – 12, 2012

Beethoven’s Ninth
Beethoven: Choral Fantasy
with: Pianist Di Wu
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Choral)
with: Soprano Stacey Tappan, Mezzo-soprano Stacey Rishoi, Tenor Stanford Olsen and Bass Matthew Curran

Upcoming Performances with Arnaldo Cohen:
May 12 – 15, 2012

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1
Oregon Symphony

May 18 – 20, 2012
Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1, op. 25
Kansas City Symphony

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