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KC STAR: A mystery, a masterpiece and the sensuality of Spain: Symphony opens its season

Natasha ParemskiBY PATRICK NEAS
Special to The Star
SEPTEMBER 09, 2017 8:00 AM

Russian pianist Natasha Paremski is wowing them wherever she goes with what BBC Music Magazine calls her “flawless technique and unstoppable energy.” She’ll bring her amazing talents to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts when she helps the Kansas City Symphony open its new season Sept. 15-17 with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Michael Stern also will conduct “Odna Zhizn (A Life)” by Christopher Rouse and the Capriccio Espagnol by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

The season opener Stern has designed has an all-Russian flavor, even though the first piece on the program, “Odna Zhizn (A Life),” is by an American composer. Stern says Rouse was inspired to write the piece as a tribute to a friend.

“It was inspired by somebody of Russian background; that’s why he’s given it a Russian title,” Stern says. “There’s a certain enigma-like, cryptic meaning embedded in the music because he’s writing it for and about a woman he calls an extraordinary lady, who influenced him and is close to him.

“He never says who the person is. That’s the enigma. I don’t think he means the piece to be a portrait as much as it is what he calls a ‘love letter.’ ”

Following “Odna Zhizn” is more rousing music, pardon the pun. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol is one of classical music’s great orchestral showpieces.

“It’s an adventure of virtuosity for the orchestra,” Stern says. “Sometimes these classic showpieces get their reputation for good reason. This is one of them.

“It exploits the orchestra with all of the color and possibilities in a way that you can actually hear everything. That’s the genius of great orchestration, when you’ve got all sorts of stuff going on, and they’re all audible and contributing to the whole.”

The Capriccio Espagnol is also a perfect example of Russian composers’ obsession with Spain. Mikhail Glinka, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Dmitri Shostakovich and others have all drawn inspiration from sunny Iberia. But perhaps none has captured the spirit of Spain better than Rimsky-Korsakov.

“There is something about the rhythmic exoticism, the perfume of Spanish culture and Spanish music which naturally attracts composers,” Stern says. “It’s the rhythmic element but also the sensuality.”

The concert will conclude with Paremski, 30, as soloist for the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3. Composed in 1909, the concerto is known as one of the most technically challenging in the repertoire. Josef Hofmann, for whom the concerto was written, was too intimidated by the work to ever perform it publicly. It fell to Rachmaninoff himself to give the first performance with the New York Symphony Society conducted by Walter Damrosch.

“Rachmaninoff was one of the greatest pianists of any age, with these enormous hands, and he expanded what was possible and what was imaginable on the piano,” Stern says. “He understood how to push the envelope. Like every great composer, you hear the first four bars of that piece, and you know instantly it’s him. It’s one of the most mammoth pieces in the repertoire and, among his pieces, I think his grandest.”

The Rachmaninoff Third holds no terrors for Paremski. She has performed the work and others equally difficult with orchestras around the world. Born in Moscow, Paremski began studying piano at the age of 4. She moved to the United States with her parents at 8 and continued to pursue her studies, making her professional debut with the El Camino Youth Symphony in California at 9.

Having won a shelf full of awards and given innumerable critically acclaimed performances since, Paremski seems destined to become one of the greatest pianists of her generation.

8 p.m. Sept. 15 and 16 and 2 p.m. Sept. 17. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$85. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.

Read article on KC Star website.