Yuja Wang performed Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Feb. 11. Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto is one of the most popular pieces that made its way to the pop music and cinematic world, performed by one of the most prominent pianists and conductor of our time.
Wang performed all Rachmaninoff’s five piano and orchestra compositions in a timeline of two weekends, preserving her world-renowned status. The piece begins with a heftiness of striking chords that resembles church bells reminiscent to the Russian Orthodox services Rachmaninoff used to attend with his grandmother. Though this association can be interpreted as being one to evoke nostalgia, the piece is a dedication to his therapist.
The theme acts as a spirit, carrying within the piece in various form through harshness from the brass and the brightness of the upper strings. The beginning is of a slow nature within the orchestra coupled with a lightness in the piano. This doesn’t last long as it seamlessly builds up with intensity. In that moment, the composer is truly in control of us until finally, a release that gives the control back to the listener.
Wang acted as a vessel of emotion from composer to audience as she played with such animation that not only captivates the eyes but glues our ears to her.
The orchestra begins the second movement with the piano following. With silence from the orchestra, the piano introduces the main theme of the piece and is later joined by the flute and clarinet. The melody lingers in each instrument; in conveyance, there is a telling of patience, to follow the melody without haste. The second movement attributes to every emotion that relates to an isolation that cannot be easily expressed to both the world and to the individual because of its complexity. The correlation can be seen through the obvious, the use of solo, but also the diffusion of the lingering melody.
The orchestra aids the piano in the numerous swells that lead into each other. Following the feeling of detachment from the piano that eventually becomes a rupture of liveliness with the orchestra, it can be seen as if one has approached a realization through the impact of sound. A resurgence can mean the coming to happiness or jubilation, but since the piece nestles itself back into the same feeling of gloom, it is a reference to life itself — through we endure moments of joy, it is a temporary and we are reminded of our solemnity.
The third movement is without a moment of dullness, seemingly acting as the antithesis the previous movements but simultaneously conveying the same emotional weight. The movement begins with steadiness in the lower strings then to the piano, and further along, the piece is brought back to its original state of melancholy, reminding us once again of life’s tendencies.
Although, Rachmaninoff did not seem pessimistic enough to end with that idea of melancholy and life’s tendencies. It ended with the theme in all its majesty with the full orchestra delivering a feeling of conquest. This piece was of a memory that everyone can recall and attribute, and whether it is of depression or love, it calls on to the heart and can put a listener into a trance.
“Symphonic Dances,” composed by Rachmaninoff, was the last piece played. After coming from the previous piece, it took a moment to recover and assess what was being played. That soon resolved itself with the rhythmic euphoria from the strings and percussion. The second movement rightfully pays homage to the title, displaying the haughty waltz theme that usually is found in the romantic era. Just like his piano concerto, drama seeps into every corner of the piece, especially in the third movement, subtly yet abruptly with percussive elements making a showcase; apathy is non-existent within the orchestra and the audience.
With both conductor and pianist performing with such fervid and impassioned spirits and the orchestra following with the same enthusiasm, both pieces were told justly and made for an awestruck performance.
This piano concerto series is a testament to the virtuosity of Yuja Wang but also to the gusto of the LA Philharmonic and Dudamel. It was fitting since it was recently announced that Dudamel would be leaving Los Angeles for the New York Philharmonic.
It’s hard to imagine an orchestra without a conductor, and it’s hard to imagine the LA Philharmonic without Dudamel. But just as the city it lives in, change is a constant that is embraced.