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Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

What is That Theme?

 Permanent link
By Jim Lange
 · May 28, 2009
The NBA playoffs can be a really stressful time. Fans are absolutely feverish in their support of favorite team and players. The drama is intense, the athleticism simply jaw dropping and the excitement contagious. That’s why I found this calm and quiet music for this NBA ad so unusual. 
Divineri

I thought, “Philip Glass? The NBA?” Has Glass crossed over to the mainstream to be part of a national TV ad?

I was wrong. The music is not Glass, but Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. The piece is "Fly" from the album Divenire .

The composer may not be Glass, but he owes a great debt to him as it is clearly inspired by Glass's piece Mad Rush  (from his album Solo Piano ).

If you like this music, may I recommend music from the film The Hours also composed by Glass, in full score or for solo piano

And, by the way, don’t forget to root for your favorite team!

 

You can read more about Philip Glass from Jim Lange in his previous post "Through the Looking Glass"


Jade Simmons & Cliburn-mania

(Interviews, News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · May 25, 2009

This morning when I got to work, I talked a bit about American Idol with a colleague who watches the show. I’ve seen parts of a couple episodes, but I don’t know too much about the show. 

She told me about Idol, and I got to tell her about the music “show” that I’ve been watching recently: the 2009 Van Cliburn Piano Competition. It happens every four years in Fort Worth, Texas – and no, I did not nip down to Texas this weekend – I've been watching it streaming live online, for free.  

 

The competitors, who are all 30 or younger, are chosen from all over the world. First recordings are screened, and then the judges travel to hear about 150 performers in person, and then about 30 pianists are invited to Texas. They perform for audiences and judges in Texas, and you can watch them online

You won’t hear Tears for Fears covers, rather you’ll get to enjoy music by Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Busoni, Bach, Stravinsky, Brahms, Dvorak, Schumann, and contemporary composers writing for the piano. 

 

Revolutionary Rhythm

Also cool: I recently interviewed the host for the live Cliburn webcast -- pianist Jade Simmons. We’ve played her debut album Revolutionary Rhythm , which includes music by Corigliano and Barber and hip-hop piano etudes by DBR, on the radio. 

Simmons is also an arts activist and is no stranger to competition -- as Miss Illinois, she played Chopin for the talent portion of the Miss America competition. Listen to our conversation about the future of concert music, Revolutionary Rhythm, and her diverse musical experiences.

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Interview with Jade Simmons


All weekend, I’ve been catching parts of recitals, where the pianists play about an hour of music of their choosing. When things get narrowed down to further levels, they’ll also play piano quintets with the Takacs Quartet and concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony, conducted by James Conlon.

Other Cliburn connections -- previous bronze medalist Barry Douglas gave an amazing performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the West Virginia Symphony last season (here’s my interview with Douglas). Next season, Jon Nakamatsu (who took the Cliburn gold in 1997) will play Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini with the WV Symphony.

Update (groggy, Wednesday morning): Now I know how some of you Idol fans feel.  I stayed up way to late last night to find out the semi-finalists in the Cliburn competition.  Several of my favorites have gone on (including Di Wu and Andrea Lam).  Others whose recitals I liked are not semi-finalists (Zhang Zuo and Mayumi Sakamoto), while some whose performances didn’t move me are in the top twelve.  I won’t single them out here -- I’ll wait, watch and listen; maybe they’ll change my mind.  The pianists are in rehearsal with the Takacs Quartet today, and the concerts resume on Thursday.  

Bach and the Lute-Harpsichord

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By Jim Lange
 · May 21, 2009
Elizabeth Farr
Lute-harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr

Back in my student days, when researching the origin of Bach’s music transcribed for guitar, I would sometimes see the lute-harpsichord listed as a source. I had never heard one of these instruments before. What did it sound like?

Fast forward to 2008, when Naxos releases Music for Lute-Harpsichord performed by Elizabeth Farr. I eagerly got my hands on this release because, for the first time, I could hear this instrument and maybe get a little closer to Bach’s music.

The sound is quite unexpected. A Lautenwerk is a Baroque harpsichord that uses gut strings as well as the usual brass variety to create its unique timbre. At times the Lautenwerk rings full of the metal string sound, then, with sudden color changes, a deep gut string is sounded.

For me, this instrument possesses a greater depth of sound than a regular harpsichord, though the mechanical plucking sound is sometimes pronounced. Bach was deeply connected to the lute, its players, repertoire and the lute-harpsichord. Farr explains this connection.

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Farr explains the impetus behind this CD, the instrument maker Keith Hill and a little ‘secret’ about the instrument itself.
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Lautenwerk
lute-harpsichord

BWV numbers or the Bach catalog numbers are not chronological. Farr explains and talks about her favorite suite on the album.
 
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Baroque composers chose keys very carefully. Each key had a certain ‘affect’ or character. Farr explains that tuning systems must have played a role in this assignment of key characteristics.
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Early music performers, in my experience, have a really open minded attitude and a keen sense of humor. Thank you Elizabeth Farr for such a great interview!
 
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Bonus tracks:

Not all of Bach’s music has survived in his own handwriting or “autograph.” Elizabeth clarified a few points for me.
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The system of tuning that early music performers use is different from modern music. She uses the terms meantone and equal temperament. This relates to her discussion of key characteristics.
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Farr Lute-harpsichord album
Naxos release "Music for Lute-Harpsichord"
Want to hear more?  You can purchase the album here. 

Opus!

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By Carole Carter
 · May 20, 2009

Fourteen voices, seven instrumentalists, a conductor and accompanist delighted the audience Sunday evening (May 17) with a fine concert of mostly Mozart fare.

The vocal ensemble is comprised of quality voices, many of whom are soloists. The singers were not stifled by a forced blend. The blend is in the vowel sounds which were obviously addressed by the conductor, as evidenced by the shape of the singers’ mouths.

I have to confess to a preference for this kind of ensemble, both as a participant and as a listener. The smaller ensemble is capable of producing a full sound, while the conductor essentially shares the music-making with the vocalists.

Opus
Courtesy photo

The approximately hour-long performance began with a trio of pleasing contemporary compositions and arrangements.

Then the group launched into the meat of the program – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

From the singer’s perspective, you can rarely go wrong with Mozart. He’s so logical and tuneful. The vocal line goes right where you expect it to go, right where it needs to go.

Mozart, W A
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

The Mozart fare began with three smaller works, two of them very familiar to choral singers – Ave Verum Corpus and Laudate Dominum. Emily Capece, an alto in the ensemble, was more than up to the soaring soprano solo in the Laudate. The third work was a little-known Jubilate Deo.

An instrumental piece by Mozart followed with two violins and organ, giving the singers a respite before the main work, Mozart’s Missa Brevis in C, the “Spatzen.”

This lovely mass employed strings, timpani and trumpets plus harpsichord and gave a number of vocalists the opportunity to shine in solo sections.

Donathan, David
David Donathan, Opus Artistic Director and Conductor

I happen to think that Charleston audiences are much too eager to reward local performances, but the Mozart mass elicited a well-deserved standing ovation.

The encore was a fabulous arrangement of Shenandoah by Derric Johnson. A little Web research turned up this Web site. Johnson is certainly prolific, and possesses a definite style. He’s got a “print on demand” element on his site for any interested conductors looking for music.

David Donathan has only been artistic director and conductor of this ensemble since January. He’s made an auspicious start.

Several newer vocal ensembles have sprung up over the last few years. Let’s hope the apparently limited audience for choral repertoire in the Kanawha Valley will support all of these fine choral groups.


Review: La Boheme

(Concert Reviews) Permanent link
By Carole Carter
 · May 18, 2009

I guess when it comes to opera, I’m more of a purist than I thought.

The semi-staging of La Boheme by the WV Symphony was well sung, but to my taste, not well presented.

I have a degree in theatre and I’ve sung or worked on about 20 operas. I see opera as the ultimate theatrical production, using all the arts: vocal and instrumental music, drama, art, dance (although the ballets are now more often omitted either in composition or performance).

I have no philosophical problem with resetting the work in another era, and welcome the occasional “rehearsal” attire and/or minimal set and props.

Shirvis, Barbara
Soprano Barbara Shirvis sang the role of Mimi, the seamtress dying of consumption.

While I did have some problems with the costuming (I didn’t care for the jeans, and I recognized some attire of chorus friends), the minimal set and props didn’t bother me at all.

What did bother me was the distraction of the orchestra on stage. Opera is all about the vocal music and on-stage drama. I know; some of the drama is a little hard to swallow. I mean, who admits to everlasting love ten minutes after meeting?

Boheme is filled with many small, private moments between the loving couples and soliloquies. You simply can’t have that with a full orchestra on stage behind them.

Springer, Jeffrey
Dramatic tenor Jeffrey Springer sang the role of the writer Rodolfo, in love with Mimi.

I know that Puccini’s music is lush and enticing, but the orchestra over-shadowed the vocalists in many of the climaxes, and was not in sync with the singers in others.

The singer should be free to express the music at his or her pace during a performance. I know there were monitors, but certainly the vocalists could not have felt like they were in control of tempi or expression. An orchestra in the pit allows the conductor to face the singer, and therefore provide proper accompaniment.

I’m sorry, but the opera orchestra belongs in the pit. They could still have performed the action in the same manner, just concentrated it all downstage.

BTW - In real life, Marcello and Musetta are husband and wife. Makes for nice chemistry.

Editor’s Note: Agree? Disagree? The West Virginia Symphony blog is inviting people who attended the opera to submit their own reviews. Or you can leave a comment here.
 


Gimme that ol’ time religion

(CD Reviews) Permanent link
By Bob Powell
 · May 18, 2009
Mormon Tabernacle Organ
Tabernacle Cathedral Hall, Salt Lake City, ca. 1970

 Gimme that ol’ time religion...

That isn’t a phrase I use too often, and for theological reasons, I won’t expound upon. If it wasn’t for a recent CD that found its way into my mailbox this month; Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing , I would bend my ear to newer, fresher perspectives.

Come Thou

Come Thou is a collection of American folk hymns and spirituals performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra, recorded in May, 2008 at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City under the direction of Mack Wilberg.

As a child, I grew up visiting my grandmother who lived up the street from my home and she was a regular viewer of the MTC. I can remember she would have Billy Graham on the radio and the Choir on the tube. Our family vacation even took us to see the Tabernacle in the 1960s and '70s.

Mormon Cathedral

The 1980s found me as a Top-40 college radio DJ by day and a member of the college concert choir by night, while listening to the burgeoning Jesus-music, contemporary Christian music of the period.

My classical music background was growing as well; dating music majors, performing in the Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Handel’s Messiah, and the occasional P.D.Q. Bach choral underground performance.

Grownup life, however, pulled me away from such a rich and varied experience in order to keep up with my kids' musical tastes, modern church life and my own musical escapism.

What a wonderful surprise to land this album.

Mormon Cathedral 2

Come Thou is a touch of angelic grandeur in a revival tent. It blends the hope of the spiritual with the profound theology of hymn writers like Isaac Watts, John Newton and Will L. Thompson.

While the presence of  the orchestra would seem to place it firmly in a concert setting; as opposed to what I’m accustomed (piano, organ, guitars and drums in my home church), having the fullness of the orchestral sound transports me at best, to a holy place or at least a simpler time.

The Mack Wilberg and Moses Hogan arrangements capture the hope and faith of previous generations, at the same time it brings it to an era of iPods. Even for my wife, who was familiar with Alison Krauss’ performance of "Down to the River to Pray" from the Coen Brother’s film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, the MTC recording brought tears to her eyes and I suspect will be soon worn off the disk.

Come Thou is a wonderful offering that crosses that divide between an appreciation for a classical interpretation of American folk-religious music and the spirituality that is sometimes lacking from most professional orchestras and choruses.  Not bad considering they're an all-volunteer chorus and orchestra.


B is for Beautiful?

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By Aran Jenkins
 · May 14, 2009

The Three B’s performance last Friday was, to turn a phrase, B-oisterous, B-rilliant, and a B-last! Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Opus 37 was the highlight.

Beethoven Portrait
Beethoven

Markus Groh, the guest pianist, exhibited such a mastery of his instrument that it was really a pleasure to watch.  The piece was full of so many piano flourishes and runs. Mr. Groh never missed a beat and played with such passion, it was enthralling. 

The changes of the music were just excellent, so much light and shade, and such turmoil; all the traditional kinds of hooks that Beethoven was famous for. Groh also played with such a command of volume, I was very impressed with the touch and the sensitivity that he had. 

The whole orchestra seemed to follow Markus Groh with B-oldness and B-rilliance! That was the last one I promise!  I did not want the Beethoven piece to end. 

Brahms
Brahms

Brahms’ 3rd Symphony in F major was my first listen for this piece as well, and I must say it was quite enjoyable.

I also heard almost a regression in style, which does jive with the history as Brahms was a bit more classical in style, but there were great changes in this piece that were really that were excellent. The 3rd movement seemed to me to be the strongest.

Bach
Bach

There were some great melodies played by the strings and that was quite enjoyable. One thing that was great to see (from the second balcony) was the chronological growth of music, from Bach (harpsichord and strings only) to Brahms, with a full accompaniment of brass and the fullness of sound that accompanied that expansion.  B-etter late than never! 



West Virginia Public Radio will broadcast this concert on Symphony of Ideas Friday June 12 at 1 pm and Monday June 15 at 9 pm.


WV Youth Symphony, Sean Burdette

(Interviews, News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · May 15, 2009
WVYS Brass Quintet
WV Youth Symphony Brass Quintet, Sean Burdette on left

The WV Youth Symphony is more than just one orchestra. They have four different groups that will be performing this weekend -- two string ensembles, a wind ensemble, and the youth orchestra.

Trumpet player Sean Burdette has been involved with the WV Youth Symphony since middle school. Now a senior in high school, he has won the opportunity to solo with the orchestra. Sean will be playing the first movement of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto this Sunday.

He graciously took a little time away from classes at Poca High School to come to our studio for an interview: 

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Interview with Sean Burdette

I look forward to hearing more from Sean as he studies music at Alderson-Broaddus in the fall, and continues in his musical career. (Disclosure: Sean mentions playing in the orchestra for South Pacific in his interview-- I'm also playing in that orchestra.)

 

Bob Turizziani

Bob Turizzianni conducts the youth orchestra; he's also principal clarinet of the WV Symphony. We talked about the youth symphony program, how students can get involved, their relationship with music in the schools, and the music they will be playing on the upcoming concert.  
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Bob Turizziani, WV Youth Orchestra conductor


David Williams, who conducts the WVYS Wind Ensemble, has also been interviewed on Classically Speaking.

The West Virginia Youth Symphony will play their spring concert at the Scottish Rite Temple in Charleston, this Sunday at 3 pm.


Wheeling: Lincoln, American Music

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · May 12, 2009
Lincoln portrait
Abraham Lincoln

The Wheeling Symphony will be celebrating the Lincoln Bicentennial this week with a concert and a free roundtable discussion called “Lincoln, West Virginia History, and the Civil War.” 

Wheeling Symphony Music Director Andre Raphel Smith talked about the upcoming events and the importance of Lincoln for our state, country, and him personally. We also discussed the music for the upcoming concert and his interest in American classical music. 

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Interview with Andre Raphel Smith

Gregg Baker, baritone
Baritone Gregg Baker

The concert is Friday night and the program includes music by Copland, Dvorak, and John Adams. The free event is Thursday, May 14 from noon to 1:30 p.m at West Virginia Independence Hall. 

Maestro Smith will moderate a discussion between historian Dr. David Javersak & Dr. John Mattox of the Underground Railroad Museum. Baritone Gregg Baker, who is the featured soloist for the Friday night concert, will also give a short performance on Thursday afternoon.   


(Classical) Guitar Heroes!

(News, Just for Fun) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · May 8, 2009
Guitar Heroes from Naxos/Amazon

Calling all guitar fans … all music fans … here’s a chance to get a whole bunch of guitar music for less than a dollar

Starting today for a limited time, you can download 50 tracks of classical guitar music for just 99 cents.  It’s part of a special project with Naxos Records and Amazon, called Guitar Heroes

Also starting this week, you might notice some extra links on our classical music playlists.

People frequently write to ask how they can purchase a recording they’ve heard on Classical Music with Jim Lange.  Now, there will be direct links from the playlists to purchase recordings on Amazon.  When you buy a CD or mp3 through these links, a small percentage of the cost will be donated to WV Public Broadcasting.

I hope to add links to online classical music site ArkivMusic soon – they are still some technical issues we need to work out. 

Looking for more guitar?  We’ve interviewed a few classical guitar heroes around here previously: XueFei YangChris Anderson, and Glen Kurtz.   Also, Aran Jenkins has written about the guitar-saxophone connection  and posted a Segovia video, and coming soon, Jim Lange (a guitar hero in his own right) will post his interview with Sharon Isbin!


If you spend that dollar to get the 50 tracks of classical guitar music, let me know what you think.  If you like it, share this post with your friends, so they can get this deal and enjoy the music too.


WVU Prof at Carnegie Hall (New York)

(Interviews, News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · May 7, 2009
Allemagnetti
Allemagnetti

Violist Maggie Snyder will be playing at Carnegie Hall this Sunday. No, not  that Carnegie Hall, the other one … up in New York City. She and her sister, harpsichordist Alexandra Snyder Dunbar, will be playing a recital featuring three world premieres at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall. 

Snyder is from Memphis, received degrees at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and now teaches viola at West Virginia University. She and her sister have performed together all their lives, but they just recently established themselves as a group with a name – Allemagnetti (you can read the story of that name on their site). 

I called Maggie Snyder Tuesday at her sister’s apartment in New York City, and we chatted about how they got to Carnegie Hall, the music she’s playing, her experience growing up in a musical family, comissioning new music, and bringing the harpsichord into the 21st century. 

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Interview with violist Maggie Snyder


In the interview, Snyder mentions that they’ll be performing this music sometime in West Virginia (after she catches up on her taxes!). I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens. 

The duo Allemagnetti will perform at Carnegie Hall Sunday May 10 at 5:30 p.m. Their program includes music by J.S. and C.P.E. Bach, Alan Hovhannes, Manuel de Falla, Kenji BunchThomas PasatieriKamra Ince and Garrett Byrnes

** As a fellow violist, I was remiss in not asking Snyder her opinion of viola jokes and whether she started on viola or violin.  I’ll get back to you on those questions – and if you ever have extra questions you want asked of the people we interview, let us know, and we’ll see what we can do. 

** UPDATE: Maggie Snyder wrote back to me a bit ago with answers to my questions, and now I'm finally getting to post them. Here's what she said:

"I didn't start on viola. My father was a violinist, and I actually did the 'learn to stand, learn to hold a violin' Suzuki training. I was even first more of a prodigy pianist than a string player anyway, starting that intensively when I was 3. 

"At about 12 years old, my father handed me a viola, and I was in, hook line and sinker after that. I kept up piano and violin all through high-school (and violin continues to be a "back-up" instrument for me), but viola was definitely my focus in college. My very first piece on viola was [Mozart's] Sinfonia Concertantescordatura (my father believed in trial by fire).  What fun to play first thing with my dad, though!

As to viola jokes, I am a big believer in taking oneself very lightly, so think they are very fun. I probably have heard most of  them. I especially like the ones that end up with a twist at the end which turns them into jokes about conductors or violinists. And I like jokes of any kind, so ones about my instrument are like "famous" ones."


Congrats, Larry Combs!

(News) Permanent link

Larry Combs clarinetThis just in:  clarinetist Larry Combs will be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame this year. 

Larry Combs is from Charleston, WV, where he studied clarinet and by age 16 was principal of the Charleston Symphony (now the West Virginia Symphony).  Combs is a founding member of the Chicago Chamber Musicians.  He recently retired as principal clarinetist with the Chicago Symphony, and he was previously principal clarinet of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.  He also teaches at DePaul University and performs with jazz groups in Chicago. 

I hope to have an interview with Larry Combs for you sometime soon. For now check out Erica Peterson’s story about Combs and the rest this year’s WV Music Hall of Fame class.

Previous classical inductees have been composer George Crumb (interview) and opera singer Phyllis Curtin (interview). 

Evan Mack: Pianist and Composer

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · May 4, 2009
Evan Mack
Evan Mack

Evan Mack is a champion of American music for the piano, and he also incorporates music from South America and Africa into his programs. His interest in American music began with Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto.  Here he is playing the first movement with the Vanderbilt University Orchestra in 2002.

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Barber Piano Concerto: Mvt 1

We started our interview talking about this piece by Samuel Barber. From there, we also discussed the music he’ll be playing for his May 8th recital at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg. We also talked about his musical background, composition projects, how contemporary music can be accessible to audiences, and his upcoming plans. 
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Interview with Evan Mack


In the interview, Mack mentions his opera Angel of the Amazon about Sister Dorothy Stang, a nun who was murdered while working as a missionary in Brazil. 

He’s currently working on getting the opera to workshop or the stage.  Here’s “Have I Not Wept?” an aria from the demo CD. Erin Greene sings as Sister Dororthy Stang:

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"Have I Not Wept?" from Angel of the Amazon


If you’d like to hear “West Virginia Girl,” a very different song by Mack that we discussed, you can find it on his Web site

Evan Mack will be playing a concert on Friday May 8 at 7:30pm, at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg, West Virginia


Just a note: This interview has led me to realize that Lewisburg is a serious piano hotspot. Two other pianists I’ve interviewed are based there: Fran Belin and Barbara Nissman


Rachmaninoff plays Rachmaninoff

(Commentary, Just for Fun) Permanent link
By Aran Jenkins
 · May 1, 2009

Being passionate about classical music and composers and about the piano specifically, I felt compelled to share this link with everyone.  On YouTube, I have found actual recordings of Sergei Rachmaninoff.  I almost hesitated believing it, but I trust the honesty of YouTubers! 

This blog is dedicated to those lovers of classical music who, like me, have asked the question:  What might this piece have sounded like in the hands of the master who wrote it?? 

Here, apparently is the answer for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 3.  Kudos to user theoshow2 for posting this music! 


I have only recently become acquainted with the music of Rachmaninoff, who I feel is slightly underrated, but what a veritable treasure that his original music exists in recordings for all to hear!! 


Look for a response to tonight’s WVSO performance of the 3 B’s at the Clay Center next week!  I look forward to seeing some of my favorite music tonight in that great venue!  Keep listening all! 


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