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Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto ‘from heaven’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If the late Sergei Rachmaninoff still has a fan club today, Olga Kern would certainly be a member of it.

Kern can’t help heaping praise on Rachmaninoff as a composer and as a pianist.

“As a pianist, he was absolutely the best of the best,” Kern said in a phone interview from her home in New York City.

“His technique and ability to play piano the way he did was absolutely beyond words.”

Renowned Russian-born pianist Olga Kern will perform  Rachmaninoff with the New Mexico Philharmonic.

Renowned Russian-born pianist Olga Kern will perform
Rachmaninoff with the New Mexico Philharmonic.

She makes those statements based on her listening to recordings of the Russian at the keyboard, whether he’s playing his own or pieces by such composers as Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg and Frederic Chopin.

Every time she hears Rachmaninoff’s recordings she’s amazed that he could transform other composers’ works through his understanding of and feelings for the music.

Kern – herself a renowned Russian-born pianist – is the guest artist with the New Mexico Philharmonic in a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 Saturday, Oct. 12 at Popejoy Hall.

The piano concerto is considered a central work in the repertoire.

“This music is from heaven,” Kern said.

“In every movement there are incredibly beautiful melodies. I don’t think it’s possible to have so many famous melodies. It’s unique. I’m sure it was like the pop music of the beginning of the 20th century.”

Rachmaninoff’s music, she said, reflects his love of Russia but the piano concerto No. 2 in particular shows that love and especially of the country’s beautiful landscape outside of the city, she said.

And she said Rachmaninoff had such a great understanding of the piano that when he played his second and third piano concertos, one can hear him make the instrument sing.

She paused and added, “Actually, it’s hard to understand how a piano can sing.”

Kern said that pianists today are told that they must study Chopin and J.S. Bach to learn the foundations of the piano repertoire. But they should include Rachmaninoff as a requirement of their learning.

Kern won the first Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition and was the Gold Medal winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

This season she is performing in cities as diverse as Prague in the Czech Republic, Pamplona, Spain, and Peoria, Ill.

And this year on tour Kern said she is playing more of Rachmaninoff’s music than usual, including the Piano Concerto No. 2, because 2013 is a double anniversary for the composer.

This year, Kern said, marks the 140th anniversary of his birth and the 70th anniversary of his death.

On the same New Mexico Philharmonic program are the overture to Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Nabucco” and Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Grant Cooper, artistic director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, is guest conducting the Philharmonic.