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Can a pianist take on Rachmaninoff? The Houston Symphony will find out

By by dianna wray/dwray@vicad.com
Jan. 4, 2012 at 3:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 3, 2012 at 7:04 p.m.


"Rachmaninoff! He shakes me! He quakes me! He makes me feel all goose pimply all over!" Marilyn Monroe's character exclaimed in the film, "The Seven Year Itch."

The movie is worth watching; but if you've never sat down and listened to the works of Sergei Rachmaninoff, I've got an even better plan for your weekend - the Houston Symphony's RachFest. The festival features famed pianist Kirill Gerstein tackling four piano concertos written by the famed Russian pianist and composer.

The concertos are notoriously difficult. Some professorial types even believe Rachmaninoff's "abnormally" large hands are what made it possible for him to compose - and actually play - this stuff.

His music is deeply personal, a storm of sound that surrounds you and pulls you in as he runs through every emotion on the spectrum. With a good pianist, the passion in his work will flood a room and fill a hall with a gorgeous cacophony of sound.

Luckily, Gerstein is known to be a very good pianist. He'll be moving through the concertos for the first three weekends of the month. They are works that demand both technical skill and endurance.

The Houston Symphony describes these works as "knuckle-busting" challenges. Basically, this isn't just a rendition of "Chopsticks."

But don't take my word for it; come and see for yourself. Then, when you finally settle in to watch "The Seven Year Itch," you'll be able to really get the Rachmaninoff joke. Be sure and tell everyone Rachmaninoff really does shake you and quake you.

After all, the whole point of listening to Rachmaninoff is to tell other people about it, right? (Wrong, but go find out for yourself.)

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