Sunday, December 1, 2019

Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3 Played by George Li & Symphony Tacoma

Hello lovely friends and readers,
Are you still here? 
Sorry for the long radio silence. I know it's been a while since I last posted or commented. It has been the most surprising Fall, life got busy, and I will tell you more as I get a chance, but today I offer to take you to one of the most memorable concerts I've been to in my entire life. And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this impression as the gorgeous Pantages Theater was packed to the fullest and burst into the longest standing ovation right after George Li played the last notes of one of the most technically challenging piano pieces ever created, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3. 

But before I dive into writing about the unforgettable night of music which brought up so many deep contrasting feelings, tears and joy, let me just mention that I am not a musicologist or a music critic, and if you're looking for a professional review, I recommend you to read this detailed, in-depth piece by John Falskow: 

Sergei Rachmaninoff, early 1900s (photo source)

While I can't provide you with a professional music review, I will offer you a personal essay about my experience of this magnificent music piece and amazing performance, and maybe just like me, you will discover gifted, inspired, world-class musicians in your own city. I studied the history of classical music for two years at university and had the most wonderful professor Evgeniy Andreevich Lozinsky whom I grant with not just educating me, but opening my mind, heart and soul to the world of classical music. As a part of an end-of-the-year test, I wrote an essay about Rachmaninoff, who was not only a genius composer, but also one of best pianists and conductors of his time (he equally loved all the three gifts he owned and as a young person, as many of us, tortured himself, trying to pick one). Lozinsky highly appreciated and even recommended my essay for publication in a respected literary magazine, but I was so shy and unsure of myself back then that I didn't find the courage to bring my essay to the editor's attention. So in a way, this is one of those life moments that connects the disconnected dots and completes the cycle, for me. No, I won't write my 20-year-old thoughts here - I grew up, moved to another continent, built a life, got seasoned, and my views changed since then. This is what I actually wrote today, a week since the performance.

Portrait of Rachmaninoff by Konstantin Somov (source)

I fell in love with Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in the early 1990s when my city Krasnoyarsk was visited by Nikolai Lugansky, then a talented young pianist and now a renowned musician, widely recognized in the world as one of best performers of Rachmaninoff. I listened to this piece so many times (a couple of times in person, and countless in recording) that soon I learned it by heart, remembering every little passage. It's a challenging piece to play, which only professionals can evaluate, but to a listener, it's also a mind-blowing whirlpool of feelings and emotions, from softest tenderness to melancholy, through deepest sadness and yearning for something out of reach, and finally to purest joy and triumph of the human spirit. And all of that in the most intense 40 minutes of a pianist and orchestra creating magic, taking us through this incredible emotional landscape. I truly don't know another piece quite like that, and the words that come to mind every single time I listen to it, are: it's very Russian. Don't get me wrong. I do believe that music, as a form of art, has no nationality - because the human spirit has no nationality. Yet with all the universality, with all that we have in common, we also have intricate differences, each of us individually and we as a whole, as a nation living on a particular slice of land in a particular part of the world. And there is no contradiction in it - we are the same and we are unique all at the same time. One of my favorite music quotes states,

“Beethoven tells you what it's like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it's like to be human. Bach tells you what it's like to be the universe.”
― Douglas Adams

To continue this thought, I would add that

Rachmaninoff tells you what it's like to be Russian.

There are many studies of Rachmaninoff's music which explain what exactly makes this composer the most Russian, all I can say is that I feel his Russianness with every fiber of my soul. I believe that the talents and skill of a musician lay in the ability to understand (hear) and interpret the composer's ideas, to sort of be the translator between the composer and the listener - to translate not "from Russian to English", but from "Rachmaninoff to Li" and then "from Li to Lialina" in this particular case. It is an incredible gift to be not only technically educated and experienced, but also tuned in with that part of you which can translate/interpret from soul to soul. And here we finally got to George Li's performance which was truly magnificent. I felt the whole wide spectrum of feelings, the whole emotional roller-coaster, as if I listened to this Concerto for the first time. I simply couldn't stop the tears, a whole bucket of them! A couple of packs of tissues were very much needed, but I didn't have them and was so afraid to bother my neighbors' experience anyway, so I let the tears flow and eventually they dried out by themselves. 

Obviously, I don't know what others heard and felt when listening to Rachmaninoff  during Li's performance, but I'm pretty sure that everyone was on their own emotional journey, and that's the beauty of music - it fills our individual emotional and spiritual needs, which for most of the audience I bet weren't even remotely connected to Russia, and in that sense yes, music is above nationality, geography, language, religion or politics. Because it touches something so deeply personal, hidden from all eyes, and touches each of us individually. And truly it's amazing that such a young musician as George Li can bring each of us to that sacred place inside of us, known only to ourselves, and yet at the same time we all can experience it together and therefore be united in music. I can tell that there were no indifferent people in the audience because at the end everyone jumped up on their feet, and after long ovations George Li played a short piece encore. During the brief conversation after the concert, Sarah Ioannides said that she played with George when he was 12 (exactly 12 years ago) and back then he already impressed her with his talent. It was a curious fact that Symphony Tacoma played this piece back in  the 1980s last time, and also that Rachmaninoff himself played right next to the Pantages from his railway carriage in 1925 (he wasn't crazy about journalists following him everywhere due to his fame, and often traveled in his own railway carriage).

Sarah Ioannides and George Li after the concert

I also wanted to mention the wonderfully humorous piece that opened the concert that night - David Ludwig's Fanfare for Sam (a tribute to composer Samuel Barber). That was such a delightful surprise and the world's premier at that, which is something our music director Sarah Ioannides does regularly, opening music horizons and educating Tacoma. I was happy to hear that David Ludwig is also our composer in residence this year. Bravo! 

If you live locally and haven't had a chance to see Pantages theater after the  restoration yet, you will be amazed. Such a beautiful and careful historic restoration and renovation is rare and worth mentioning. The theater which always was beautiful, looks exceptional now, as if you are inside of a precious jewelry box where all the intricate interior details truly came to life, and timeless architectural beauty now matches the timeless beauty of music.

You know that Justin and I have been supporting local arts for years. Sometimes, we get season passes, which have their benefits, though most commonly we just purchase individual tickets through the box office, selecting events that interest us. I wrote about our adventures regularly, and in particular, about classical music performed by Symphony Tacoma (2013201420162017), our wonderful local orchestra, for the last 5 years playing under the music direction of Sarah Ioannides"recognized as one of the most creative and inspiring young conductors" and "one of top female conductors worldwide." When I was looking at the 2019-2020 season at Symphony Tacoma, this particular concert was high on my wish list, so you can imagine how amazed I was to be asked whether I was interested in writing a review of this concert! 

I wore the dress which you could've seen in THIS POST (scroll down to see it at the very end of the post), but with different coat and shoes. We had a busy day and didn't have a chance to photograph the whole outfit - it gets dark early these days. But I'll include photos of other recent outfits which I wore to work and play this Fall. One new addition, I started wearing more pants and jeans. This fun pair of ripped/patched jeans is from Old Navy. I surprised Anya with my choice - she said my outfits with these jeans look like "teen style". I think she liked it. This Autumn was incredibly gorgeous! We had such a prolonged period of warm sunny days in October and early November, and leafage stayed colorful and vibrant for  an unusually long time.

My approach to dressing has changed within this year or so. All of my outfits are in heavy rotation these days as my main focus switched to my work. It's not the boring "work work", but something that I got to call "my life work" where many pieces are coming together. I'm having so much fun with it, and all my creativity goes into it instead of a main focus on style. I have many thoughts on the "work/life outfits" vs. "style blog outfits" topic. There is no right and wrong approach, and I want to emphasize on that. 

I believe that there is a season for everything, and it seems I am in a new season of my life now. To be honest with you, I wasn't sure whether to continue this blog or quit because style, even though it wasn't the singular focus of my blog, was definitely the main focus. Will you be as interested in the new season of Natalia as much as you were interested in looking at her playing dressing up for the past 6 years? The truth is, some of you will and some won't, and the final decision is still mine. I just want you to know that all is well and it isn't a goodbye (I am still learning not to make hurried decisions in life). Perhaps I will write here, but not as often as I used to. Perhaps it just will be a shift in themes or approach to blogging. Time will tell.   

Lots of love to you all!

All items are remixed from my wardrobe, mix of retail, thrift finds, old and new.

Photos by Justin Donie 

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  1. wow! that concert event sound absulutely gorgeous!
    i´m touched by your descriptions of the music and the componist rachmaninoff - although i do not remember the actual piece, i´m sure i have heard it on our radio channel that plays lots of classic - and being in the east, many russian music especially.....
    the concert house is a beauty on its own!!
    and your fabulous dress with the blue roses was perfect for that event!
    oh - and the ensemble with the rust leather and big flower blouse is lovely too <3
    what ever you will do with this blog - i will be checking in here every time you write something new :-D
    hugs! xxxxxx

  2. What a stunning theatre. Thank you for these pictures and introducing Rachmaninoff. I like your dress in blue, you look amazing. I wonder, I think it is the first time I see you wearing jeans :))
    A very hug hug Tina

  3. How lovely to see you, Natalia, and I'm so pleased that not only you got to enjoy this wondrous concert, but you have lately entered a new exciting season in your life. Doing something which feels like it's truly you is the best feeling there is, and I fully understand that everything else must take a back seat for now. Not that I think your fashion sense is any way reduced, mind you, it just isn't your main focus right now, which I understand. Whatever you decide to do with your blog - I do hope that you will continue to regale us with the things which tug your heartstrings - it is ultimately up to you, but I'll gladly continue to welcome your posts, even if it's got nothing whatsoever to do with outfits or fashion. Your passion for music - and Rachmaninoff in particular - radiates from every word you have written. As for that gorgeously opulent theatre, surely there couldn't have been a better venue for it. Lots of love, and hugest of hugs xxx

  4. Concert sounds amazing!! It's your blog-- so you do you!!! Super cute with the ripped jeans and red top and jacket!

  5. What a lovely post, lots of interesting details, the theatre, the music, and your heartwarming words about the experience of listening to Rachmaninoff and his magnificent 'Russianness', I've enjoyed it and felt touched. I've loved particularly the Douglas Addams'quote and totally agree with it ;DD
    And I'll keep visiting your blog even if you write less (or never) about fashion and more about other things. I'm more interested in reading you than interested in fashion!

  6. I super enjoyed this post Natascha! I too am into classical music and play it and sing it. So I really understand what you were saying. How wonderful to have such a personal connection to the piece and the composer! And to be asked to write a review.
    I too have moved on to a new season in blogging as you know. I am finding my style has evolved away from the mad secondhand consumption and display. I am quite bored talking about style and outfits now. So I will read with interest your new ideas if you want to write them. I'm so happy you are busy with your "soulwork" my dear. You will do it brilliantly!
    Much love and hugs, Jazzy Jack PS The jeans are so you.

  7. I'm late to reply as I didn't receive notification that you'd posted. I hope you see this, Natalia, as I want to thank you for being who you are. I'm always inspired as much by your insights and observations as I am by your styled outfits and shopping tips. Thanks so much for being real and for taking us with you. I too will always read whatever you write and wish you great joy in pursuing your calling in life. I love that we don't stay static year after year and that the evolution in into a newer version of ourselves always flows out of who we were. Now that you've discovered what Natalia loves to wear to show the world her creative soul, you're out there creating the next thing and knowing intuitively what to wear with no need for feedback or introspection. You go, girl. Thanks for this beautiful and thoughtful post. I'm also a musican and a lover of classical music and am inspired to get my charts out and play something beautiful over this Christmas season. Be blessed! xo karen

  8. I'm not very knowledgeable about classical music, but my best friend from childhood is a musician so I do know a little. I do however often listen to classical music and I have much respect for anyone in that field. I will come back for another visit and read, but what you wrote really resonates with me. Classical music often brings tears to my eyes, especially in a live performance. It is often both indivual and universal at the same time.

    I love your outfits, especially the burn orange one. The concert dress is so beautiful. The outfit with ripped jeans is fab as well.

    the answear I found to the eternal blogging dilemma is that the best thing about having a blog is that you can always come back to it. Blogging once a month is still blogging....thinking like that lessens the stress for me.

  9. Thank you for your conclusion about the significance of Rachmaninoff's work. About two months ago for various and sundry reasons I became interested in reading about Russia. The first book I read was Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith. I then went on to Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes. Presently I am reading A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, also by Orlando Figes. While reading Natasha's Dance I decided that it would be a good idea to start listening to the music of Russian composers. I thought this might create the emotional ambiance appropriate for the books I was reading. I listened to Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Prokofiev, and, of course, Rachmaninoff. I found that I kept coming back to Rachmaninoff again and again. I began to listen to certain pieces over and over because they were like lyrical emotional magnets that drew me to them. Repeatedly I listened to his Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Opus 43, No.18. I played it so much that at night in my dreams I would hear it. And the more I listened to it, I found my own emotions rising up and spilling out to the world in the form of smiles, deep breaths and tears. I'd hum the lovely melody to myself when I thought no one was listening and a few days ago while doing this I said aloud, "I'm in love". And indeed, whoever this man was, whoever this Rachmaninoff was that created this music that could reach into my being and free my heart to feel like a human again, this Rachmaninoff I loved. I'm going to continue to listen to more and more of his work because I like it and feel drawn to it, but if it is as you say, that he is the most Russian of the Russian composers, then I will entrust myself to his music to help me find the essence of Russian-ness in what I read. Thank you again for making clear the meaning of Rachmaninoff.