SERGEI VASILYEVICH RACHMANINOFF WAS THE LAST IN THE LINE OF
dazzling Romantic pianist/composers descended from Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin.
His music is so charged with feeling and passion that in a photograph, one might expect a
cape, a dashing pose, or the charming smile of one of the twentieth century’s most beloved
and popular musical icons. Yet in nearly all his photographs, Rachmaninoff appears stiff,
stern, and intensely serious. He reveals only the slightest hint of a smile on pictures at
the piano or with his granddaughter. Rachmaninoff was so reserved and austere that
Stravinsky called him “a six-and-a-half-foot scowl.” (The composer’s father, Vasily, an
officer of the Russian Imperial Army, on the other hand, was dedicated to the pleasures
of high living and the social graces.) Although Rachmaninoff was a Russian patriot to
the bone, after 1917, he was forced by political circumstances to live in exile for the rest
of his life. He wrote three operas; several major choral works; a dozen orchestral works,
including three symphonies; five piano concertos; nearly a hundred works for piano; and
more than eighty songs with lyrics from the texts of Russian Romantic poets.
On October 12–13, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra performs Rachmaninoff’s
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, written in 1935, the same year the orchestra was founded.
Also on the program are Dark Mountains by Robert Paterson and the Samuel Barber Violin
Concerto played by esteemed young Taiwanese-American violinist Paul Huang. He last
appeared here in a Buffalo Chamber Music Society Sunday afternoon concert in 2012 and
has since been the recipient of both the 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant and a 2017 Lincoln
Center Award for Emerging Artists. Huang plays the Guarneri del Gesù Cremona 1742
ex-Wieniawski violin, on loan through the Stradivari Society.
A new season for the BCMS
Another remarkable young musical artist appears in this season’s first concert of the
BCMS Gift to the Community Recital Series on October 14. In a program to be announced,
soprano Julia Bullock brings the thrilling artistry of a nascent international operatic career
that includes her San Francisco Opera debut in the world premiere of Girls of the Golden
West as well her her debuts at Festival d’Aix en Provence, the Dutch National Opera,
and the Santa Fe Opera in John Adams’ Doctor Atomic. Bullock has also performed with
the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the London Symphony
Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the New York Philharmonic.
On the following Tuesday, October 16, the Chamber Music Society’s season formally
opens in the Mary Seaton Room with
a concert by the Belcea Quartet, who
perform Haydn’s String Quartet Op.
33, No. 5; Janacek’s String Quartet No.
2; and Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.
130 with the Grosse Fuge. Based in
Great Britain, the Belcea Quartet was
founded in 1994 by Romanian violinist
Corina Belcea, while at London’s Royal
College of Music, and also includes
Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski and
French musicians Axel Schacher on
violin and Antoine Lederlin on cello. In
addition to playing the compositions of
the Classical and Romantic periods, the
quartet has presented world premieres of
contemporary works by Mark-Anthony
Turnage, Thomas Larcher, and Krzysztof
Penderecki. On Wednesday, October
16, the Belcea Quartet performs at the
University at Buffalo’s Lippes Concert
Hall, playing the Mozart String Quartet K.
589, the Bartok String Quartet No. 6, and
Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 6.
Two titans of the piano
ROCKIN’ WITH RACHMANINOFF
BY PHILIP NYHUIS
Clockwise from far
left: Piotr Sulkowski