Pianist, Glens Falls Symphony to play ‘Petrushka’

The audience at Sunday’s Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra concert will hear a first for the orchestra:

The audience at Sunday’s Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra concert will hear a first for the orchestra: Stravinsky’s Suite from “Petrushka.”

“It has multilayers and is a new venture for the orchestra,” said music director Charles Peltz.

The four-part suite is based on 11 sections from Stravinsky’s ballet score, which Serge Diaghilev had commissioned for his Ballets Russes for a Paris debut in 1911. Stravinsky revised the score into a suite in 1947 and ushered in an entirely new language for orchestra.

After completing “The Firebird” in 1910, Stravinsky began sketching out a concerto for piano and orchestra, inspired by the image of a puppet who suddenly comes to life and annoys the orchestra with “diabolic cascades of arpeggios,” as Stravinsky wrote in his autobiography. The orchestra responds with menacing trumpet blasts. After a noisy climax, the puppet sadly collapses, still complaining.

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For Gazette music writer Geraldine Freedman’s review of this show, click here.

Stravinsky played his sketches for Diaghilev, who saw their theatrical potential and persuaded him to convert the material into a ballet score. The result was a score dominated by the winds and brass to produce a hard-edge sound and endowed with a revolutionary treatment of rhythm and harmony. Meters shift, phrases are asymmetrical. There are syncopations that disrupt in unusual ways. Instead of melody, the driving force is rhythm and a harmony that superimposes chords on chords to create polytonality.

Stravinsky said the dissonance represented Petrushka’s insults to the audience at the Shrovetide fair — an event that begins and ends the suite. It is this language and making the connections between the four parts of the suite that will challenge the orchestra, Peltz said.

Italian pianist Roberto Plano, who will be the soloist in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor in the same concert, will play the piano part in the Stravinsky.

“The part is very tricky,” Plano said in an email from Travedona Monate near Milan, where he teaches at the International Piano Academy.

And it’s an unusual part for a soloist, because the pianist plays within the orchestra, following the conductor, rather than in front, leading the orchestra.

“I said yes immediately because it’s something soloists never do, and I’d always missed being part of something that has enormous power like a symphony orchestra,” Plano said.

He is known to local audiences for his two solo appearances with the orchestra: in 2002 after winning the 2001 Cleveland International Piano Competition, and again in 2007.

In 2005, he was one of the finalists at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and a laureate at the 2006 Axa Dublin International Piano Competition. For a piece like the Stravinsky, most major orchestras or ballet orchestras have staff perform the part.

But the piano part is difficult enough that Peltz was considering hiring a pianist until he thought of asking Plano.

“It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “If an amateur orchestra asked him to play, they could never afford him.”

As for the Chopin, an early work written when the composer was 20, Plano will be totally at ease, at least with the piano part, which he performed three times last season.

But those performances were with a string orchestra (an arrangement that Chopin made). So this will be the first time doing the piece with a full orchestra, he said.

This concert is the beginning of a short North American tour, which includes recitals in New York and Massachusetts and later concerts in Calgary.

Plano will soon release a disc of the music of Andrea Luchesi and will record next year all of Scriabin’s sonatas. In his spare time, he also composes music for organ and choir for his local church.

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