Today at 3 PM, I’ll have the opportunity to attend the Hough Plays Rachmaninoff concert. The concert will take place in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The concert will consist of performances by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, which will be led by Xian Zhang, and Stephen Hough. The pieces that will be performed are Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, followed by Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6.
As I conducted a brief research on Rachmaninoff’s life, I was able to learn many facts not only about who he was as a composer, but also who he was as a person. To learn about his troubled childhood made me think that some of his pieces will somehow reflect his dark/unhappy past. The point in his life were he was discouraged and induced to believe that he was not that good of a composer adds on to my inferences about the overall mood of some of his pieces. With these facts in mind, I’ll definitely have a better understanding of the pieces that will be performed, because I will be aware of the circumstances that influenced Rachmaninoff’s music at the time. I believe that learning about his life prior to attending the concert has already impacted my experience, for I now feel prepared to engage in the performance, rather than just sit there, clueless about the pieces’ significance.
Rachmaninoff’s pieces, Vocalise and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, certainly grasped my attention from the minute I listened to them. Vocalise has a soothing and calming aspect that can make anyone feel relaxed, but intrigued at the same time. Throughout most of the piece, there are variations in its dynamics, as it ranges from soft to loud, and vice versa, in various occasions. The mellow timbre of the piece can push a listener to infer that the piece reflects something about Rachmaninoff’s life at the time. Just like I mentioned above, Rachmaninoff’s rough life experiences probably influenced his writing of this work. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini shares some of the same qualities as Vocalise. Perhaps if I hadn’t learned a bit about the composer’s life, I wouldn’t put too much thought into how the pieces’ are structured, but knowing that he encountered many ups and downs throughout his musical career (and personal life as well), I’m able to understand the pieces better and draw a connection between their respective meanings.
Hopefully, when I listen to these pieces live, I will be drawn and intrigued by the performers and their ability to present these pieces in an outstanding manner.
Geoffrey Norris. “Rachmaninoff, Serge.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 3 Dec. 2017.