Kingston Symphony presents Rachmaninoff & Beethoven

Pianist Avan Yu receives standing ovation 

The Isabel hosted the concert.
The Isabel hosted the concert.
Photo supplied by Cody Chretien

On Jan. 27 to 28, the Kingston Symphony performed the newest installment of their Masterworks Series ‘Rachmaninoff & Beethoven,’ directed by the symphony’s musical director Evan Mitchell. Under the leadership of Mitchell, the series has sold out for the last two years.

Mitchell opened with a few words on the three pieces of music that make up ‘Rachmaninoff and Beethoven.’ The show consists of a short piece by Richard Wagner and two longer works — one by Sergei Rachmaninoff and one by Ludwig von Beethoven.

The show started with Wagner’s ‘Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin, WWV 75.’  The prelude comes from an opera that tells the story of a knight riding a swan who rescues a beleaguered princess. It’s also the origin of the classic wedding song that typically announces the entrance of the bride.  

The prelude began softly and drew in the attention of the audience – only the violins started at first, until a flick of Mitchell’s wrist summoned the cellos.

In his opening remarks, Mitchell described the prelude as basically one long buildup, which makes sense — the next piece was the climax of the show.

Avan Yu, a world-renowned pianist who played with Yo-Yo Ma in his teens, emerged from the side of the stage to help Mitchell and the symphony perform the piano concerto.

This performance marked a return to the Kingston Symphony for Yu after three years, his last performance also a Sergei Rachmaninoff composition called ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.’

After getting comfortable on the pianist’s stool, Yu played ‘Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op. 30’ — a complicated, 45-minute piece. Over the course of this part of the concert, Yu kept a cloth on the piano to take breaks to wipe his hands before continuing.

At one point during the performance, Yu played for 26 minutes straight without stopping. Without hesitation or restraint, he brought the piano to life.

Photo supplied by Cody Chretien

Nowhere was this on display more than on his final encore, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ which received a standing ovation from the audience and became an easy highlight of the concert’s masterful performance.

After the intermission, Mitchell came out to conduct Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

Mitchell said the piece was one of his personal favourites because of the unprecedented technique Beethoven used to heighten the emotional impact of the music.

This was amplified especially by the interplay between conductor and musician. From the audience, you could see how much he loved the music – his movements were enthusiastically sharp and precise, personally directing each musician to their best.

After two hours of performance, the series lived up to its name. The pieces that made up the production were not only well-composed, captivating pieces, but they also were powerfully performed. 

Each musician brought their instrument to life and the symphony as a whole performed flawlessly. As a result, the music sounded full, complete and was emotionally rewarding.  

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