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Rachmaninoff gets spotlight to mark 150th anniversary of his birth

By Park Ga-young

Published : March 9, 2023 - 15:28

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Pianist Lim Yun-chan performs Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 during one of the final rounds of the 17th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 17, 2022. (The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition) Pianist Lim Yun-chan performs Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 during one of the final rounds of the 17th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 17, 2022. (The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition)

Sergei Rachmaninoff's music holds a special place in the hearts of many Koreans, with his Piano Concerto No. 2 consistently ranking among the top five classical music pieces in surveys conducted by KBS Classic FM in 1982, 2009, 2016 and 2021. The Piano Concerto No. 3 has become more familiar for Korean audiences after Korean pianist Lim Yun-chan's captivating performance during the final of the 2022 Van Cliburn International Competition. The video of his performance on YouTube has garnered over 10 million views, making it the most-viewed rendition of the piece on the platform to date.

As noted by David Reiland, artistic director of the Korean National Symphony Orchestra, in February, "Rachmaninoff's importance as a composer leads to people seeking reasons to honor him every year."

This year, however, there is no need for an excuse -- this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Russian musician's birth and 80th anniversary of his death. As expected, numerous orchestras and performers in Korea will showcase his music on stage throughout the year.

At least four performances of Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 will be staged this year.

The Tongyeong Festival Orchestra and pianist Kim Sun-wook will perform the piece on April 1, during the Tongyeong International Music Festival in South Gyeongsang Province.

In May, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra will bring the piece to the stage with pianist Park Jae-hong.

In June, the Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Kim Hye-jin will perform Piano Concerto No. 1 at BAC Concert Hall in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province. In July, they will showcase Piano Concerto No. 2 and Symphony No. 2 at Lotte Concert Hall in Seoul.

Symphony No. 2 will also be performed by the Korea National Symphony Orchestra in September under the baton of Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv at Seoul Arts Center. The following month will see the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra the same piece.

The Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra will come back with Piano Concerto No. 3 with pianist Kim Do-hyun and Symphony No. 3 in September.

The KBS Symphony Orchestra, together with Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky, will perform all four Rachmaninoff piano concertos over two days in December at Lotte Concert Hall in Seoul.

Meanwhile, Lim Yun-chan will perform Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at New York's Lincoln Center in May.

Pianist, composer and conductor Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) in 1921 (Library of Congress) Pianist, composer and conductor Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) in 1921 (Library of Congress)

Beyond Rachmaninoff's most popular piano concerto and symphony, classical music enthusiasts in Korea will have ample opportunities to appreciate his other timeless compositions.

The Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra will perform "Vocalise," "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" Op. 43 and "Symphonic Dances" Op. 45 in December.

Seoul-based InArts Production has scheduled Rachmaninoff chamber music series in April, May and September. Pianist Cho Jae-hyuck and Chyung Han-bin in April will perform Suites Pour Pianos No. 1 & 2 and various four hands by the composer. In May, singer including soprano Seo Sun-young will introduce Rachmaninoff's lieder. In September, violinist Kim Chee-yun, cellist Song Young-hoon and pianist Cho Jae-hyuck will perform Trio elegiaque No. 1 and No. 2.

Pianist Kim Hong-gi, who won the Isang Yun International Music Competition in 2013, will perform all Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 on March 23 at Kumho Art Hall Yonsei in Seoul.

On April 2, Sergei Babayan, an Armenian pianist, will play "Six moments musicaux" No. 2 and No. 6 and "Etudes-Tableaux" Op. 39 Nos. 1-9 on April 2 at the Tongyeong International Music Festival.

A scene from musical A scene from musical "Rachmaninoff" (National Museum Cultural Foundation)

In addition to classical music concerts, a musical called "Rachmaninoff" is also scheduled to be staged at Theater Yong at the National Museum of Korea from April 1 to April 22. The musical is inspired by the composer's three-year struggle with depression and writer's block after his first symphony received harsh reviews, as well as his recovery after meeting physician and psychiatrist Nikolai Dahl.

The musical premiered in 2016 and received the best screenplay award at Yegreen Musical Award in 2016 and the best music and music director awards at the Korea Musical Awards in 2017.