By Paul Hyde: September 15, 2015
Acclaimed pianist Andrew von Oeyen finds himself returning, again and again, to Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major.
“It’s a masterpiece from every point of view,” von Oeyen said via email from Japan, where he’s currently on tour.
“There’s not one note I’d want to change in it,” he added.
Von Oeyen, one of the most prominent pianists of his generation, just recorded Ravel’s jazzy concerto with the Prague Philharmonia and will perform the work several times on tour with that orchestra in Europe and China this season.
But first, von Oeyen returns to the Upstate to open the Greenville Symphony’s 2015-16 season as soloist in the Ravel concerto.
Conductor Edvard Tchivzhel will be on the podium for the two concerts on Sept. 26 and 27 in the Peace Center’s Concert Hall.
Also on the program is Rachmaninoff’s expansively romantic Symphony No. 2.
“We have a spectacular program,” Tchivzhel said. “We have music of two great composers, both extremely popular.”
Von Oeyen, 36, last opened the 2010-11 season of the Greenville Symphony as soloist in a well-received account of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
The Ravel concerto, composed between 1929 and 1931, is particularly close to von Oeyen’s heart.
“One of the qualities of Ravel that never ceases to amaze me is his harmonic language,” von Oeyen said. “I often say this piece appeals as much to people who know nothing about music (because of its catchy, jazzy qualities and obvious lyricism) as to people who know everything about music (because of the impeccable craftsmanship and inventiveness of thematic material and orchestration).”
The concerto’s haunting slow section is surrounded by the breezy, dazzling first and third movements.
“While I love the two outer movements of the concerto for their energetic and festivejoie de vivre spirit, the second movement is the emotional heart of the piece,” von Oeyen said. “It is simply one of the most gorgeous and hypnotic slow movements imaginable.”
Ravel melds the suave French tradition with the spirited accents of American jazz. In fact, Ravel wrote the piece after encountering jazz on a 1928 concert tour in the United States.
“There’s a lot of humor and wit in the piece,” Tchivzhel said. “It’s a joyous concerto.”
The program also includes Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, one of the composer’s most popular works.
“It’s a monumental symphony with a wealth of beautiful melodies,” Tchivzhel said.
The tender third-movement theme is considered one of the gems of classical music. (Pop singer Eric Carmen turned that theme into a 1976 hit song, “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again,” proving that a good tune is timeless.)
Though composed in 1906-7, the Second Symphony is a nostalgic, backward-looking work.
“Rachmaninoff to the last day of his life belonged to the Russian romantic school of the 19th century,” Tchivzhel said.
Von Oeyen, who lives in Paris and Los Angeles, maintains a busy career with engagements throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
He recently made his debut with the famed Mariinsky Orchestra in Saint Petersburg in the “Stars of the White Nights Festival.” Other recent engagements include performances with the Detroit Symphony and at the Brevard Music Festival and Chicago’s Grant Park Festival.
On July 4, 2009, von Oeyen performed at the U.S. Capitol with the National Symphony Orchestra in “A Capitol Fourth,” reaching millions worldwide in the PBS live telecast.
Von Oeyen, of German and Dutch origin, was born in the United States and began his piano studies at age 5. He is alumnus of Columbia University and the Juilliard School.
When he’s not appearing with the world’s great orchestras, von Oeyen often performs solo recitals or in chamber music concerts. As a chamber musician, von Oeyen has toured extensively with acclaimed violinist Sarah Chang, among others.
He spoke at length via email about the contrasting experiences of working with orchestras, performing alone or in small ensembles.
“While I enjoy playing a combination of concertos, recitals and chamber music, I usually end up playing more concertos than anything else,” von Oeyen said. “The simple reason for this is demand, particularly in North America. When I go to Japan, however, I am booked for more recitals there than anything else. Each market is a little different. Ideally, I try to do a bit of all three because the context and repertoire offers something uniquely rewarding in each case.
“When it comes to concertos, there is something to be said for sheer volume (of sound) and numbers of performers. You achieve a kind of energy that can’t be matched in a solo or chamber setting. The chances for something to go ‘wrong’ in a concerto are even higher, given the number of players and the challenge of ensemble, which brings a certain level of excitement in itself.
“Solo recitals offer greater flexibility than concertos,” he continued. “As you are entirely alone, you don’t have to make any repertoire or musical compromises (except with yourself or the instrument), and there is no greater sense of accomplishment than delivering a successful one-man show with a singular musical vision. Recitals often offer the chance to play with greater intimacy and to show a different kind of emotional expression — often a more introspective one, depending on the repertoire. But the rewards of a solo recital don’t come without a cost: recitals require much more work and preparation than a concerto or chamber music (more music and more notes) and they are lonely — especially when you are doing an extended tour of them!
“Chamber music offers a nice answer to that loneliness — collaborating with other people, ideally friends — while still allowing intimacy of expression and (ideally) flexibility. The chamber music repertoire is also amazing. Not only do you get to spend time with your colleagues on and off stage, you learn tremendously from one another, and what you learn informs the way you play concertos and recitals.”
Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present free pre-concert talks one hour before both performances at the Peace Center.
For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
YOU CAN GO
What: Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s “Opening Spectacular,” featuring pianist Andrew von Oeyen, under the direction of conductor Edvard Tchivzhel
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26; also 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27 (Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present free pre-concert talks one hour before both performances.)
Where: Peace Center Concert Hall
Tickets: $17 to $60
Information: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org