When I think of Saturday night’s Redlands Symphony Orchestra concert, the picture that keeps replaying in my mind is of pianist Vladislav Kosminov with music simply flowing through his fingers and floating like liquid gold in intricate patterns up and down the keyboard.
That’s what his performance of Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor sounded and felt like.
The Redlands Symphony’s music director Jon Robertson, in his preconcert remarks, said Kosminov has technique equivalent to that of legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz. I’d say musical technique isn’t something you can measure precisely, but Kosminov has a generous helping of it and he used it Saturday night to cast a musical spell on the audience.
The enchantment was part Chopin, part Kosminov’s performance.
Chopin (1810-1849) is synonymous with piano music, and his music can be exciting, poignant, joyful and just plain beautiful. It’s technically difficult, but doesn’t hit the listener over the head with blasting bombast.
Well-played Chopin bathes the audience in a sea of beautiful tone and magical melody, and the magic was alive Saturday night in the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel.
After the Chopin, Kosminov showed another side of his pianistic chops in an encore, Russian composer Grigory Ginzburg’s paraphrase on Figaro’s aria from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” The piece is amazingly fast and energetic, with the pianist’s hands sometimes cascading up and down the keyboard, and there’s a big pinch of humor thrown in.
I feel invigorated — with a smile on my face — just remembering it.
Kosminov, who made his U.S. debut in 2013, could be a pianist to watch for in the coming years.
As for Chopin, watch for his other piano concerto in the next Redlands Symphony Orchestra concert. That concert, on Valentine’s Day, features the winner of the University of Redlands School of Music Concerto Competition. This year’s winner, according to a notice in Saturday’s program, is pianist Michael Malakouti, who will solo in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor.
Because the winner was not yet determined when the symphony’s season was planned, the back-to-back Chopin piano concertos were not programmed on purpose, but it should be interesting to hear them a month apart.
But let’s go back to Saturday’s concert, because there was more than Chopin.
The concert opened with Wayne Bohrnstedt’s “Festival Overture,” a piece written in 1956 for the first Symposium of American Orchestral Music sponsored by the University of Redlands School of Music.
Bohrnstedt was on the faculty of the University of Redlands School of Music for 40 years, retiring in 1993. He has written a number of pieces over the years — for orchestra, piano and other combinations of instruments — including his “Festival Fanfare,” which has been performed many times on the Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival.
His “Festival Overture” is indeed festive — Robertson used the term “hard-core excitement” in his preconcert remarks — and it’s fun to listen to. It has exuberance and energy, lyrical moments, strings sounding like surging seas and rhythms that dance.
There is a clean, almost angular feel to some of the harmonies, explained in more technical terms in Bohrnstedt’s program notes. But you don’t have to understand augmented and diminished triads to get the fun and excitement of the music.
Bohrnstedt himself was in the audience Saturday night, and after the “Festival Overture,” Robertson had him come to the edge of the stage for a congratulatory handshake.
The “Festival Overture” was followed by Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 1, written in the early 1890s.
Nielsen’s music is not as well-known as that of Brahms, but it’s well worth hearing.
The Redlands Symphony’s program notes about Nielsen (1865-1931) and this symphony refer to the “Brahms-Wagner debate” in late 19th-century German music, Brahms’ supporters saying composers should stick with classical forms and Wagner’s side saying they should invent new forms.
Nielsen took a third path. According to the program notes, “The composer managed to find new energy and vigor in classical structure, maintaining a clear sense of expression while rejecting what he considered to be the excesses of romantic emotion.”
The result is a refreshing Scandinavian breath of music.
Robertson said this symphony has “powerful melodies that have a little twist to them, nothing quite straightforward.”
And the Redlands Symphony, with solos and solo sections throughout the orchestra, put a twist of joy, drama and fun into the music.
The whole concert, from Bohrnstedt to Nielsen to Kosminov’s Chopin and Ginzburg-Rossini, was an evening of musical fun.