Sunday, Dec 6, 2020 • 26min

S. Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto no. 2 with C. Galvin

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This week, Carl brings on his first guest, Conor Galvin, and they discuss Conor's favourite piece of all time - the 2nd piano concerto by Rachmaninov.
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Speakers
(2)
Conor Galvin
Carl Roewer
Transcript
Verified
Carl Roewer
00:15
Welcome to "Classical Music: The Stories".
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02:03
Hello everybody, and welcome to this week's episode of "Classical Music: The Stories". This week is a very special week because I have with me a guest on the podcast. Do you want to introduce yourself?
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Conor Galvin
02:14
Hello, my name is Conor Galvin. I'm a musician friend of Carl's. I'd like to call myself a friend of Carl's, if that's okay, Carl?
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Carl Roewer
02:21
But you can call me a friend of mine if you like, yeah.
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Conor Galvin
02:23
I'm a violin and viola player and mainly in classical music, of course, but I also enjoy playing piano and I've played various instruments over the years and I love music.
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Carl Roewer
02:35
Brilliant! So, I've asked Connor what his favourite piece of music is, classically speaking, because this is a classical music podcast. So, what was your piece?
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Conor Galvin
02:47
So, it's tough, but I have narrowed it down to
Rachmaninoff's
Piano Concerto No. 2
, strangely enough... I'm not a piano player. I love piano music, though, but there's something about this
concerto
that really, really just signifies loads of different things and it gives you a feeling — it gives me a feeling I just can't describe.
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Carl Roewer
03:09
Good feeling, yeah. And that's what you heard at the beginning of the podcast, folks. That was the second movement of that
second concerto
Piano Concerto No. 2
, by
Rachmaninoff,
and you'll hear the rest of it at the end, don't worry.
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03:23
So, Connor, can you tell me exactly what it is about this movement, because you had a choice between three movements: two fast ones and one slow one, but, you chose the slow one. So, do you know why that would be?
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Conor Galvin
03:34
I love a lot of romantic classical music and, specifically, I like slow slow, really just letting it all wash over and sink in. But, when I listen to the second one in particular, I love the first movement and when we talk about the first movement, what's so bold? Like the start is a lot of, compared to other movements, the orchestra starts, but in the first movement, we have this piano chordal progression going up and coming down, and then the orchestra comes in, and that's amazing.
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04:06
That second movement is just really subtle and sweet, but it gives me this feeling of just "Oh!" and wonder and, like, I don't know, it makes me just think, you know, "Wow!", you know, this is amazing; this is what it's all about, you know?
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04:21
It's just amazing. I just can't describe a lot of it. It's just, in my head I put it on and look out the window, "It's a beautiful day today, there's clouds, clear sky, sunny... Cold, but it's still really nice" and just put it on, listen to it and I just think "what the hell", you know, it's really amazing.
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Carl Roewer
04:43
Yeah, so
Rachmaninoff
is a late romantic composer, he was Russian. And what do you think it is about this man, in particular, that speaks so much to you? Because I know that he's one of your all-time favourite composers. So, why would that be? What does he do?
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Conor Galvin
05:04
Like, his whole family, his whole story — particularly around the
Second Concerto
, which is this one — is quite sad, you know? He wrote his first symphony — I believe it was — and, it really did not get the kind of attention, or... what's the word? Respect!
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05:31
It didn't get received well and you really, really didn't take this well. It was really harshly critiqued, not because it would be something in particular, but because of the way it was performed, having a drunken conductor, not the best way to debut a piece of music.
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05:48
And it just really is quite sad because after he wrote this, he went into a huge state of depression and couldn't, you know, write music for ages and then his family suggested he voted to refreshing therapist by the name of
Nikolai Dahl
, I think. "Dahl", if you're American. But, when we talk about this story and I think
Rachmaninoff
was very, very open to doing this, because he wants to get back on track with musical career, because he was obviously falling behind in a lot of it.
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06:21
So, his family suggested he go when he hands down and said, "Yes, I would happily go!" So, he went to
Nikolai
, and then
Nikolai
really helped him get overcome this state of depression and it gave
Rachmaninoff
quite a hard time overall, but was coming out of it.
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06:40
His depression, he came out with a bang, with the
Second Concerto
and it was amazing. it was the real peak, you know, the kick to get him going, and everyone's saying, "Wow, this guy is in for a career", and he dedicated the
concerto
to
Nikolai
and I think that's really, really special.
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Carl Roewer
06:59
It kind of shows how much he respected this man.
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Conor Galvin
07:01
Yeah, I think they definitely have a connection that was obviously very strong.
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Carl Roewer
07:05
I think I read, it was a five year period of no music writing, at the absolute low point of his career.
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Conor Galvin
07:11
It's crazy because he's such a avid composer and musician in general. He went from office loans to absolutely nothing.
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Carl Roewer
07:18
But then he came back with an absolute winner, and that is the
Piano Concerto
that we can hear today.
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Conor Galvin
07:25
Yeah, I think to me, like, it just, when I hear that story and say, well, you know, he overcame some — obviously he had, but nonetheless he still overcame a very tough patch and did something amazing that led him on to do the rest of his career.
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Carl Roewer
07:42
And do you think that is this emotion that
Rachmaninoff
used in his music, that is what speaks so much to you?
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Conor Galvin
07:49
Definitely. I can hands down say, it's the emotion, you can feel his pain, almost, through it and whether it's not pain, it could be happiness, just this feeling of, "Wow!", you know, I'm coming out of the end of the tunnel, I can see the light, and I think it's particularly the end of the second movement of this
concerto
, which is what you hear, the ending, it's just really, speaks that way and you can feel because we go through this big thing and all of a sudden we have this build up and we have chords.
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08:21
I believe it's an E major chord, I think at the end, it's really and it just builds this, and it's huge and then it finishes nicely softly. It's just amazing.
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Carl Roewer
08:31
I think it's also good for all of you listening, who are musicians yourselves, the
Piano Concerto
is written in, predominantly, in the key of C minor and the whole first movement would be in C minor.
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08:47
So, when you get to the second movement, moving from C minor to E major, was the most revolutionary thing to ever happen in the world of music. The audience probably almost fell off their seats. It was a massive shock, absolute shock. So, do you think that probably gives a bit more of a "whoa"?
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Conor Galvin
09:13
Especially at the time, I really wonder, I must figure out and find some accounts of people who heard this first-hand on the debut of its performance. You know, hearing this because, you know,
Rachmaninoff's
music in general was always very impressive and virtuoso, futuristic as well. Isn't that?
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Carl Roewer
09:34
Absolutely. I mean, you want pretty big hands to be able to play his stuff.
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Conor Galvin
09:39
I'm not a piano player and I attempted to play the opening to the first movement, and I struggled, you know, I don't have that small hands, but well, you know, it's, he really, he was a prodigy.
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Carl Roewer
09:54
One of the members of the audience, when it was first premiered, was none other than
Igor Stravinsky
who was also a very prominent member in the classical world. What's also interesting is that
Stravinsky
and
Rachmaninoff
had quite a big rivalry towards the end of their lives. So, when
Stravinsky
went, he really enjoyed it, which is surprising if you have a tense rivalry with someone, and I think that can also show the power of the music that he wrote, that it had even an effect on the people who didn't like him.
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Conor Galvin
10:28
I think even you interpret
Stravinsky
and you're not
Rachmaninoff
, like you hear his piece and someone that obviously, we would call them enemies, you'd say. I can just imagine in the audience and you know, he must have been there like, "let's see what he's up to", and then, all of sudden, he's sitting there at the end of it and he's like, "What's just happening, what's going on? What did I just witness? How is this guy and me?"
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10:57
Nonetheless, let's take that Stravinsky really composed at the end of the day, but when you hear this piece of music, I can imagine
Stravinsky
just said, you know, "I gotta keep on my toes", you know?
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Carl Roewer
11:08
And the
Piano Concerto
was received really, really well, like, even by his mortal enemies, which gave him a proper boost. So, very soon after it came his second symphony, I'd say he was quite reluctant to get back to writing symphonies after what happened to his first one, to then suddenly have to write another one. But then that was also a massive success.
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Conor Galvin
11:31
Huge. When we look at
Rachmaninoff
influences, I find this particular interesting, he was think big fan of Tchaikovsky who, if anyone doesn't know, was also very, very big, big player in the music scene.
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Carl Roewer
11:49
Is probably the one composer people would most associate with romantic style of music.
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Conor Galvin
11:55
He, he wrote very, I don't want to say simple because it's not simple, but he wrote very easy to the ear to listen to; really, really pleasing music. And he was
Rachmaninoff's
biggest, biggest influence.
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12:13
And what I find most interesting is
Rachmaninoff
, I think he met him quite young, relatively, I think his youngish teenage years, and just before his teenage years, two of his sisters passed away at the age of 12 and his older sister, being the one who introduced him to Tchaikovsky, she passed away and this was devastating to
Rachmaninoff,
because, you know, his sister introduced him to his idol.
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12:39
And then he's after saying, you know, well, I think that could be a huge influence on all of his music because he says, "Look, my sister had a huge impact on me." I wonder to myself, I'm thinking, maybe a lot of his music is reminiscing saying perhaps memories between him and his sister. Yeah.
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Carl Roewer
12:56
So, would you recommend the first and third movements to anyone?
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Conor Galvin
13:01
Definitely, definitely. Hands down. I think you have the time which you really should like really, really listen to the whole thing in chronological order: 1, 2, 3 — the movements, of course. The first movement is very, very impressive, and we see this virtualistic, because I said earlier, and quality is coming to play with this crazy, crazy piano fingers and everything just going up and down the whole time.
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13:34
And then his second, obviously, which you hear is unbelievable. And third, again, very similar to the first.
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Carl Roewer
13:41
The third makes me want to go outside and scream because that is so vigorous in playing.
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Conor Galvin
13:46
It's very Russian, really Russian, really Russian. I don't think we can describe Russian music more than the third movement, to me it kind of sums it up very well. Romantic russian music, which is just amazing. I love Russian romantic, especially. It's incredible.
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Carl Roewer
14:03
So anyway, thank you very much, Connor, for your information, it was brilliant. Thank you guys for listening, you're now going to hear the full thing, which is, like, seriously, it's amazing, like, jaw-dropping almost. with pianist
Evgeny Kissin
and conductor
Valery Gergiev
. Please, enjoy. Thank you very much.
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