Last night I attended Andre Watts’ performance with the New York Philharmonic held at NJPAC (the New Jersey Performing Arts Center) in Newark. Watts performed Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto #2 in C minor (Opus 18) and brought the audience to its feet for three standing ovations. As I always like to note – he made it look easy.
Watts has a masterful presence at the piano and the Rachmaninov piece is one that he has performed for years. With the opening movements mimicking the sound of a tolling bell, the fireworks soon start and Watts displayed why this is an enduring piece that put Sergei Rachmaninov on the map as a composer to be paid attention to.
From Andre’s website at the Jacobs School of Music at the University of Indiana:
“….Watts entered the music scene in 1963 at the age of 16 when Leonard Bernstein chose him to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic in one of its Young People’s Concerts, which was broadcast nationwide on CBS-TV. Two weeks later, Bernstein asked him to substitute at the last-minute for an ailing Glenn Gould to perform music by Franz Liszt with the Philharmonic, thus launching Watts’ career in storybook fashion.
Professor Watts has also made frequent television appearances, performing with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. His 1976 New York recital, which aired on the program Live from Lincoln Center, was the first full-length recital broadcast in the history of television, and his performance at the 38th Casals Festival in Puerto Rico was nominated for an Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cultural Programming.
A much-honored artist, Professor Watts was selected in 1988 to receive the Avery Fisher Prize, one of the top individual honors for an American classical musician. At age 26, he was the youngest person ever to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University…”
Rachmaninov composed the piece between October 1900 and April 1901. He had experienced failure with his earlier Symphony #1 and it bothered him greatly. The Piano Concerto #2 returned him to prominence. Keep in mind that Rachmaninov was mentored by none other than Tchaikovsky so the bar was set pretty high for young Sergei.
Rachmaninov around 1900 – when the Piano Concerto #2 was composed
There is a link to modern music that is derivative of the piece. The Adagio sostenuto theme appears in Eric Carmen’s 1975 ballad “All by Myself“. Carmen first composed the song’s interlude, then took the bridge from Rachmaninoff and the chorus from his own “Let’s Pretend”. The second theme of Allegro scherzando provides the basis for Frank Sinatra’s 1945 “Full Moon and Empty Arms”.
Videos – Rachmaninov Piano Concerto – Parts 1 thru 6