WTS presents ‘Rachmaninoff’ in next week’s Masterworks Series

As the 2022-23 concert season begins its final stretch, the West Texas Symphony will be returning to the stage next week for its final concert in the Masterworks Series with “Rachmaninoff.”

The concert will feature special guest pianist Caroline Hong with music from Russian-born composers Sergei Rachmaninoff and Rimsky Korsakoff as well as Dimitri Shostakovich.

The performance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 15 at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center.

The pieces that will be performed for the evening are Korsakoff’s “Capriccio Espagnol,” Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” and Shostakovic’s “Festive Overture.”

The evening’s concert will also include a side-by-side with members of the University of Texas Permian Basin orchestra as well as local high school musicians.

“We’re really excited for this one,” West Texas Symphony Executive Director Ethan Wills said. “We have a piece that’s very popular with general audiences with classical music. We have another piece that’s very accessible and digestible to audience members of all ages. Then, we’re having the side-by-side performance where we feature student performers from local colleges and high schools and even one middle school student on one of the pieces we’re doing. If you come out to this concert, you’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Hong is internationally active as a teacher, concert performer, masterclass instructor and competition adjudicator.

She is the professor and Area Head of Piano at the Ohio State University School of Music.

Hong studied at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

She is a Steinway Artist and won the 2022-23 Steinway Top Teacher Award.

“It’s great to have her for this concert,” Wills said. “It’s great to have her do this piece in particular. It’s one of the most popular concertos of all time and it ranks at the top of symphony charts. I’m having a bunch of people asking too about Rachmaninoff and what we’re doing and I say ‘Piano Concerto No. 2’ and they’re like ‘oh, fantastic.’ To have her come and do that monumental piece that people love is great. She’s been wonderful to work with. I know she’s going to do a good job.”

When talking about the “Festive Overture,” Wills described the piece as one that most orchestras do as a rite of passage.

“What’s nice about it is that it’s challenging for a high school orchestra player but if not, it’s something that we put on our program in a normal season so we’re not changing anything just so that they can join us,” Wills said. “We normally program it and they can come and play it. Most of the students that I’ve talked to have played it in their high school orchestras so that’s cool that they get another shot at it only this time with professionals sitting next to them who do this for a living.”

Of course, Wills is most excited about the “Piano Concerto No. 2” which he says is a piece that fits into the classical repertoire and it’s one that he’s glad they were able to work in during the symphony’s milestone season this year.

“When we were programming this entire season, one of the things that we thought about was how do we celebrate our 60th anniversary? And we answered that question by performing things that we knew people enjoyed in the past but also were exciting for the future.”

Another interesting tidbit about the Rachmaninoff concerto is that it has only recently become vastly available to orchestras in the last decade.

“It’s cool that we’re able to perform this because it’s an older piece but we’re bringing it to the hall,” Wills said. “The other pieces we’ve done before and they’re fan favorites. That’s what we wanted to do with our last masterworks concert in our 60th season. We want to give a concert which we know that any concert attendee will enjoy. If they haven’t been to the symphony or don’t think they’ll understand it, this is the one where the pieces that are programmed are going to be digestible and pleasurable to anyone that comes.”

Wills also spoke highly of the collaboration in which the orchestra has been able to reach out to musicians in grades K-12 as well as colleges around the area to come in and perform for this concert.

“It’s a fresh look and a fresh perspective and an innovative approach because we’re working with one of our own roster musicians Jean Gomez who’s also the orchestra director at UTPB,” Wills said. “He’s working with us to make sure that we reach out to students in K-12 schools and give everyone as good and enjoyable an experience as we can. That collaboration has been super helpful. I can’t say enough about what he has done to help bring this together.”

For more information about the show, go to tinyurl.com/4pfn7h8u.

If you go

>> What: West Texas Symphony presents “Rachmaninoff.”

>> When: 7:30 p.m. April 15.

>> Where: Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center.

>> Where to purchase tickets: tinyurl.com/4pfn7h8u