Pianist takes on popular Rachmaninoff ‘Rhapsody’

Greenville News Full Article from Greenville News Online

By Paul Hyde: October 27, 2016

Pianist Dmitri Levkovich reaches for a “Star Wars” metaphor in describing Rachmaninoff’s popular “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”

“There’s a dark force in the piece that’s not to be underestimated,” Levkovich said, speaking by phone from New York recently. “Perhaps it has a lot to do with the wars and revolutions which Rachmaninoff himself lived through.”

Levkovich will be the featured soloist in Rachmaninoff’s challenging concerto as a part of the Greenville Symphony’s program, “Genius Against Tyrant,” on Nov. 5-6.

The title of the program refers to the other featured work, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, a 1953 piece that reflects the crushing oppression of the Soviet Union but also celebrates its demise.

“It’s two great Russian composers,” said Greenville Symphony music director Edvard Tchivzhel, who will conduct the program.

Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody” is a set of 24 dazzling variations on Paganini’s Caprice No. 24.

Levkovich’s reference to a “dark force” in the “Rhapsody” draws attention to the work’s hypnotic intensity. It’s the shortest of Rachmaninoff’s five concertos, but it poses considerable challenges to a virtuoso’s technique.

At the beginning, the soloist hardly has time to catch his or her breath.

“It’s one driving wave,” said Levkovich, a Ukranian-Canadian pianist and composer. “There are so many brilliant orchestral colors to make every variation in the piece special. I’m looking forward to it.”

At the heart of the “Rhapsody” is one of Rachmaninoff’s most memorable melodies. The soaring Variation No. 18 is considered one of the glories of classical music.

“We love Rachmaninoff for his beautiful, singing melodies,” Levkovich said. “He knew how to sing from the heart.”

Rachmaninoff, considered one of the last great Romantic composers, wrote the piece in 1934.

Winner of 17 international piano competitions, Levkovich is a rapidly rising star in the orchestra world. His performances have taken him to every continent except Africa. He has appeared at many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls and festivals including the International Piano Festival at the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Carnegie Hall in New York, and Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts.

He has collaborated with conductors Vladimir Spivakov, Jahja Ling and George Pehlivanian and has appeared as a soloist with numerous ensembles, among them the Cleveland Orchestra, the Utah Symphony, the China National Orchestra and the Gulbenkian Orchestra of Portugal. Levkovich has been based in New York for the past five years.

Shostakovich, like many artists working in the Soviet Union, faced the threat of censorship and even death under Stalin’s rule.

Shostakovich’s searing Tenth Symphony, dating from 1953, was a product of that experience.

“Shostakovich left so many dramatic pieces which reflect the struggles of the people in the Soviet Union,” Tchivhel said.

Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present a free pre-concert talk one hour before each performance. For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.