Music has extraordinary power to heal. Rachmaninoff is a case in point. In 1895 the humiliating failure of his First Symphony precipitated a clinical depression that lasted for five years, during which he was unable to compose. But finally a brilliant experimental hypnotherapist was able to crack the shell, and when he started to compose again – the Second Piano Concerto – the music flowed as never before. That familiar sound world that we associate with his name begins with this work, not before it.
A piece so loved, so well known “Rach 2” barely needs to be described. But it does need to be stressed that this work was once new, that it once impressed audiences because of its originality, not its familiarity. It is this sense of stumbling upon a new and very original musical landscape that these performances will be attempting to rediscover. And leading this voyage of discovery will be the phenomenal seventeen year old pianist George Li. BPO concert goers will remember his spellbinding, musically mature and deeply poetic performance of the Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto several years ago when, at thirteen, he was the youngest soloist ever to play with the orchestra. Since then he has been hugely honored here and abroad, won competitions, and is acknowledged as one of the most important pianistic talents to have emerged in the present century.
The Shostakovich Fifth Symphony came as balm to the beleaguered and oppressed citizens of the Soviet Union in 1937. The poignant song of grief of its slow movement was something its first audience, in the throes of the Stalinist Terror, fully understood and openly wept to. The symphony’s encrypted message of perseverance in the face of frightening oppression still has the power both to terrify and to inspire in today’s less repressive but still very complex political climate.