By Matthew Heller, Bass
“It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two!” That phrase was made famous by Ernie Banks, a Chicago Cubs infielder and apparently one of baseball’s great keeners.
Orchestras rarely play doubleheaders, but this week the Calgary Phil will join three rising star pianists — finalists in the Honens Competition — to perform six piano concertos over two nights. Thursday is the classical round, with Beethoven’s 3rd Concerto and two by Mozart. The “post-classical” round is Friday, and it’s an all-Prokofiev affair. One of the finalists will play Prokofiev’s 2nd Piano Concerto, while both his counterparts will tackle Prokofiev’s 3rd.
It’s not too often we get to play an all-Prokofiev concert, though 2015/2016 is shaping up to be a fantastic season for Prokofiev at the Calgary Phil.* It’s even rarer that we play the same concerto twice in one night. Hearing a piece this way can be a truly enthralling experience though, especially a piece as multi-layered as Prok 3rd. (Musicians like to shorten Russian composer’s names, so you might hear us talk about Tchaik 4, Shosty 5, and Rach 3rd.)
A double dose gives you a chance to delve deeper into a composer’s style and expression, absorb his language and recognize some of his quirky tendencies; it’s a bit like finding you can complete your partner’s sentences. Prokofiev was a fantastic mimic of other composers (check out his Classical Symphony for some spot-on Haydn impressions) yet he has his own, unmistakable fingerprints as well.
It also lets you hear just how differently two pianists can interpret the same work. We sometimes imagine there is one “definitive” way of playing a piece, when the much more interesting truth is that there are endless ways, and just as many ways of listening. The two Prok 3rds might come across as differently as the two games of Ernie Banks’ doubleheader.
So yes, it’s a great week for piano concertos. Let’s play six!
* Later this season, we’ll perform Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, as well as his great ballet Romeo and Juliet. I’ll also be playing Prokofiev’s Quintet for winds and strings — a truly one-of-its-kind piece — with several Orchestra colleagues, as part of the Instrumental Society of Calgary series on April 3rd.