Concert Blog: A Dazzling Debut: Carpenter Plays Rachmaninoff

What could dazzle a Friday night crowd at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra almost as much as the glamour of Heinz Hall of Performing Arts and the debut of a groundbreaking organist?…The organist’s magnificently sparkling shoes! The shoes were certainly fabulous but it was truly Cameron Carpenter, making his stunning debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra who was the headliner and highlight on Friday, April 15 at Heinz Hall.

Carpenter, a Meadville, Pennsylvania, native and former child prodigy, performed Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for the first time in the United States.  Carpenter used his sparkling shoes, along his hands, to play his organ, called the International Touring Organ, that he designed himself.  The mere act of walking into Heinz Hall and seeing a very grand but very modern organ sitting right up front prepared the audience for a unique concert experience as Carpenter played his organ and Music Director Manfred Honeck led the symphony orchestra.

The Rhapsody was not originally written for organ, but if you hadn’t heard it before, you wouldn’t have been able to tell thanks to Carpenter’s brilliant transcription and performance.  It was loud and dramatic, powerful and exhilarating, but also had a modern whimsical feel that was helped by a line of large and illuminated speakers on the back of the stage.  Upon completion of the 24 variations that made up the Rhapsody, Carpenter received a standing ovation and loud applause from the audience.  Prior to intermission, the members of the symphony orchestra and the audience were treated to a delightful encore: “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

The second half of the concert featured Shos­tak­ov­ich’s Sym­phony No. 10.  The piece was written shortly after the death of Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin, of whose regime Shostakovich and many other composers’ works were censored.  In the video prior to the performance, two members of the symphony orchestra spoke about how performing this piece had similarities to a marriage. They explained that there are ups and downs, challenges and things that are unexpected, but then lovingly concluded with how rewarding both are. Symphony No.10 was filled with drama and passion, and for the most part evident of a feeling of struggle but in the end it was heroic and as rewarding to watch as it was for the talented Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to play.

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