Abu Dhabi Classics 2017: Nicholas Angelich on Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 2

The American pianist, who makes his UAE debut at Abu Dhabi Classics this week, tells The National about his approach to Rachmaninoff

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra performing at Avery Fisher Hall on Sunday afternoon, February 22, 2015.This image:Nicholas Angelich performing Brahms's "Piano Concerto No. 1" with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra led by Yannick Nezet-Seguin.(Photo by Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images)
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Performing the pieces from the Romantic era holds extra significance for Nicholas Angelich.

The acclaimed American pianist is the featured guest for the opening concerts of Abu Dhabi Classics, which will see the celebrated Lucerne Symphony Orchestra tackle key pieces from that innovative era in classical music with shows at Al Ain's Jahili Fort and Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace on Thursday and Friday respectively.

As a soloist, Angelich says music from the Romantic period resonates because it promotes the ideals of free expression and individuality.

"There was perhaps a sort of idealism, which was expressed in a very direct way, sort of recognition, perhaps, of the individuality of everyone, and the kind of exultation of emotions," he explains.

"It's very hard to put into words just exactly all the emotional elements that are behind the music – there was a lot of powerful emotions going on."

And not all of them are at the positive end of the spectrum. Where Beethoven's 4th Symphony, which will be performed in Al Ain, is full of pomp and melodic extravagance, the Emirates Palace performance will present one of Rachmaninoff's most enduring pieces, Piano Concerto No 2.

Despite the latter's popularity and the fact that it has become a classical concert staple, Angelich says it holds a special place for pianists because of the context in which it was created. With his first symphony derided by critics, coupled with his own share of personal turmoil, Rachmaninoff fell into a deep depression and a subsequent writer's block that was cured through a course of hypnotherapy.

The acclaim that heralded Piano Concerto No 2 at the time signified a sense of artistic reawakening, as well as Rachmaninoff's re-emergence into the public sphere.

"I think that as a pianist, or really any artist, this piece is deeply touching and inspiring," Angelich says. "This concerto is about coming back from
the abyss and starting fresh again. I think the deep emotions that are in this work is one of the major reasons why it remained popular everywhere in the world."

When taking on such a resonant work, Angelich says that technical proficiency is not enough. Like a method actor, he had to study and delve deep into Rachmaninoff's psyche to deliver some sense of authenticity to the performance.

"No matter what you're playing, you have to try to understand as best as possible what was the motivation and inspiration; what does the music mean? Playing something just note perfect is not ultimately very interesting. It can be professionally something you can respect, to a certain degree, but what is important is what the music means and trying to understand and to reach that as best as possible."

It is through that interpretation that you can identify the soloist's style. Angelich's performances of the Rachmaninoff canon has been hailed for its colour, ranging from his more languid take to adding a darker and sensuous tone to the affair.

"It's all subjective," he states. "When you are performing such pieces, you know that there is not [only] one way of doing thing things. Once you go beyond what is in the score, which is all objective, then what happens becomes very personal to you. That's why each version is different from one another. I think that you reveal yourself very much when you're on stage. This has to be done in the sincerest way possible with both respect to the composer and the public."

With the Abu Dhabi Classics performances marking his UAE debut, Angelich is looking forward to forging a new connection with the audience.

It is through constant touring, which has taken him to venues such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall (London), Teatro della Pergola (Florence), Milan Conservatory, The Hague and Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris) that he explored new facets of his craft. "You learn in life with experience, and that's something very important and reassuring," he says. "No concert is the same. We as people are different from one day to the next. We're not like machines, as you know. So the whole thing is very stimulating. So for me, to come to a new hall in Abu Dhabi, to discover a new atmosphere, meet new people, is something interesting and beautiful. I am very happy about this."


Nicholas Angelich performs with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra on Thursday at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain on Thursday and Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi on Friday. For more information and tickets, visit www.abudhabiclassics.ae


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