Russia’s complex musical psyche will be explored in thunderous sound when the Red Deer and Edmonton Symphony Orchestras unite for A Stroll Through Red Square.
It takes many musicians to do justice to the larger-than-life compositions of Russian composers, such as Piotr Tchaikovsky, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Rachmaninov, said RDSO music director, Claude Lapalme.
“You absolutely need a large orchestra,” he added.
Fortunately, about 80 musicians are set to perform these compositions on Friday, May 16, at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.
Lapalme predicted the audience is in for a bold, colourful experience. A full spectrum of dramatic emotions will be expressed through these striking works — from overwhelming joy to nationalistic pride and melancholy.
Of the program’s five composers, including Aleksandr Porfiryevich Borodin and Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka, only Rachmaninov painted in subtle shades of grey, said Lapalme.
Rachmaninov’s enduring Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor starts off with a brooding first movement, then moves on to highly romantic second and third movements. These gorgeous melodies inspired popular songs, including Full Moon and Empty Arms, recorded by Frank Sinatra, Eric Carmen’s 1970s ballad All By Myself, and Muse’s Space Dementia.
Rachmaninov’s iconic concerto was featured in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, as well as the films Brief Encounter, I’ve Always Loved You, September Affair, Rhapsody, The Seven Year Itch, The World of Henry Orient and Hereafter.
It’s an “incredibly beautiful” piece that’s a real challenge to play and conduct, said Lapalme.
While not as “massively” difficult as Rachmaninov’s notorious Piano Concert No. 3 (that one drove a young pianist off the edge in the movie Shine), Lapalme had to do a lot of preparation for this piece, which will feature globally acclaimed Canadian pianist Katherine Chi.
“You have to get it in your mind, as a conductor. There are a lot of twists and turns,” said Lapalme, who considers Rachmaninov to be a true original.
The same word can be applied to Shostokovich, although he was an entirely different kind of composer.
Shostakovich provided Seinfeld-like emotions that are rarely heard in music — sarcasm and irony, said Lapalme. Beyond those contributions, his works gravitate between “profound joy and hideous despair.”
For instance, his effusive and “excellent” Festive Overture in A Major pulls all the stops on happy.
“It’s almost like a parody of a celebratory piece,” said Lapalme, who’s thrilled to be conducting it for the first time.
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra music director William Eddins will be at the helm for Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmilla, Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia, and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.
All three works are extremely evocative, said Lapalme.
He noted the influential composer Glinka created an energetic overture for a romantic opera, while Borodin, a doctor who wrote music on the side, composed a poetic musical travelogue. His piece about Central Asia captures the composer’s nostalgic and nationalistic feelings.
Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet is performed so often, it becomes challenging to ensure that it doesn’t sound hackneyed, said Lapalme. Although its love theme is “unforgettable,” the overture captures all the heightened drama of the Shakespearean story, including sword fights, and scenes of death, vengeance and heartbreak.
Lapalme is looking forward to this second concert pairing of the RDSO and the ESO. He said he always enjoys the chance to conduct so many musicians: “It’s great to have such a big sound under your hands.”
He hopes audience members will also be thrilled to hear it.
Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $54.75 ($52.75 students/seniors, $39.25 youths, first four rows) from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.