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Beatrice Rana, Tchaikovsky, and the BSO

Beatrice Rana
Simon Fowler
Beatrice Rana

Saturday, June 4, 2022
8:00 PM

The Italian pianist is the soloist in the sweeping epic of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and Dima Slobodeniouk leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7.

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Dima Slobodeniouk, conductor
Beatrice Rana, piano

Peter TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1
Antonin DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 7

This concert is no longer available on demand.

Hear a conversation with Beatrice Rana and CRB's Brian McCreath with the audio player above.


Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath from WCRB at Symphony Hall with Beatrice Rana, and Beatrice, it's so good to see you back in Boston, but this time for your first performances with the Boston Symphony, so thanks for a little bit of time today. You're playing Tchaikovsky and this piano concerto is one that you must have under your fingers for a long time now. I know you recorded it, five or six years ago or something. And I wonder if it's a piece that you learned initially because of competitions. You were doing competitions, or whether this was something that you took on simply as a piece of music earlier than the competitions just because you wanted to learn it.

Beatrice Rana Actually, I took it when I was 14. So it has been now quite many years that I've been playing this concerto. And it was the first big Romantic concerto that my teacher asked me to practice, to learn, and to play. So of course, as a young musician, I knew that somehow I had to go through competitions, but it was not the reason why I learned this piece. I was used to playing with orchestras, occasionally, of course, as a young pianist. And as the very first big concerto from the Romantic era that I learned, it was a huge challenge because of course, everyone thinks of the octaves, obviously, when they hear the Tchaikovsky concerto. But it's so much more than that. It's such a huge architecture and a very refined one, too. So really to have it under the hands and, well, under control, I think it's a bit too much because it's never under control completely, but to deal with this big architecture and with this huge orchestra, it has been always a challenge.

Brian McCreath I'm always very taken by the notes that you write in recordings. There's so much that you have in your mind about composers and about their stories and what's going on outside of the music. Is that the case with Tchaikovsky, too? Do you sort of, you know, have in mind some things about him as a person as you approach the piano concerto?

Beatrice Rana More than a person, I think that what really strikes me in this concerto is his life as a symphonist, but also as a ballet writer. And of course, I think this makes a lot of sense, especially in the second and the third movements, when there are these theatrical changes of tempi and moods, which are actually very challenging for the orchestra and for the conductor and for the pianist, of course. And then of course, on the personal level, there is this very strange love story that he had with a singer. And this comes across in the first movement, in the singing lines of of the first movement, when there are the dialogs with the flute and clarinets. It's a very cantabile piece. And of course, I think that his personal life has an influence on these aspects.

Brian McCreath And you say cantabile, the singing quality of so much of the concerto. And the opening sort of almost, it's almost deceptive. It kind of makes people feel like it's going to be something else. But then you bring out so much, especially in the second movement as I hear you play it here in the hall, there's so much beautiful, meditative lyricism. Are there certain pianists that you have looked to from the past that sort of guide you in that kind of interpretation?

Beatrice Rana I don't know if specifically for the Tchaikovsky concerto. Of course, with the Tchaikovsky, I grew up with [Martha] Argerich, a fierce recording with Dutoit, so that was my kind of teenager idol recording. But also, not specifically for the Tchaikovsky, but generally speaking, I had in mind a pianist like Rubinstein or Horowitz, and Gilels and Richter. I mean, especially with the Russian music, there is so much to look at.

There is such a huge tradition, and in a way, I try to combine that with... I try to have a direct contact with the score, because being such an overplayed concerto, it is always difficult to go just beyond the traditional playing and just to look at the score. And of course, I don't want to do it differently just on purpose. I just would like to have a direct contact with the score and also with certain choices that, of course, Tchaikovsky made, thinking a lot. And I think it's important to preserve, for example, that really theatrical and dramatic approach of this music.

Brian McCreath Absolutely. When you released your new recording of Chopin Etudes and Sherzi, a beautiful recording, we got to hear you play the Etudes here in Boston a couple of years ago, just a gorgeous, gorgeous performance, and again, I want to refer to your writing about these pieces, particularly the Scherzi. You say in your notes that, first of all, just for for the listener, you recorded the Etudes before the pandemic and the scherzi, then, well after the pandemic had begun. So they're sort of in two different worlds, and the four Scherzi you describe as something almost perfectly reflective of the experience of the pandemic. I hope I'm saying that back to you correctly. But say more about that. Why do those four pieces, these really tumultuous pieces, each a little bit different from the other, what is it about them that you find so resonant with our common experience across the world of this pandemic?

Beatrice Rana I don't know if a resonant is the right objective. I think that what I experienced, in Italy, the pandemic was very bad. Of course, it started terribly. And of course, we were stuck at home and I had the feeling that these viruses stole my life because I was traveling so much. I was playing so much, and I had so many emotions going on onstage and offstage. And all of a sudden I was stuck at home with sleeping in the same bed and doing the same things over and over. And somehow, I couldn't experience all those feelings that were with me every day in my daily life. And when I asked myself what I wanted to learn, what I wanted to practice, the Scherzi were definitely on my top list. And as soon as I approached this music, I found everything that I missed in real life. And in this sense, I think it's because the Scherzi are pieces filled with so many contrasts. And in a way, they really became a diary of this pandemic, because if it was hard on certain levels, you know, not to do what I wanted, to play, or to share music, on the other hand, it was life [and] mind opening, because I never spent so much time with my family and my loved ones. And there were moments of absolute beauty in this period. So it was a very controversial period, and I think that the Scherzi are very controversial music.

Brian McCreath Wow. Tell me more about that. The controversy of the Scherzo. What do you mean by that?

Beatrice Rana We are used to seeing Chopin as a storyteller, and the poet of piano that speaks to everyone's heart. And it's certainly true, because I can't think of another composer that really has such a direct contact with everyone, like even the person that doesn't know anything about classical music. But at the same time, the reason why I chose these Etudes and the Scherzi is because most of these pieces, besides the Fourth Scherzo, belong to one period of Chopin's life. And this period in the compositions comes across as [an] incredibly visionary period, where his life just is described in this music. So more than the storytelling, is really moments of hallucinations and moments of, yes, visions.

I remember that I read a lot about Chopin's life, and I got absolutely impressed by this story that it was in Mallorca and he was performing his Second Sonata. And the Second Sonata is the one with the Marche funèbre, the Funeral March. And right after, like, when he was playing right at the end, he started to see a procession of priests dressed in front of him. And of course, this was not real. And he had to stop and run away from the stage. And I think this small example gives a huge example of how difficult Chopin's life was. And also, he was in this period when he was loving so much George Sand. It was such an incredibly huge love relationship with her. And at the same time, there was this heartbreaking love relationship with Poland because he left Poland when he was very young and he couldn't go back. And you can hear all of this in this music.

Brian McCreath That's great. Wow, what a terrific way of approaching all of that.

You're back really with a fairly full schedule, I think, from what I can tell. But when you leave Boston after a little bit of time in the States doing some orchestra concerts, you're going to be doing recitals. I'm always curious, especially for pianists, because pianists, with recitals you can be on your own. You are the sole performer. How different is it, and did the pandemic highlight the difference for you between being the sole performer of a recital and a concerto soloist, when you're sharing the stage with so many people? Is there a big difference?

Beatrice Rana Well, the pandemic, for me, didn't make any change besides the fact that I enjoy, particularly, to play with orchestras because I finally see human life onstage. And so this is the only difference. I enjoy both of them because there is an advantage in doing both. As a pianist. I think that it's important to like to be lonely onstage and offstage, because it's a very important part of our lives. And it's better if we enjoy that. And when I play a recital, I enjoy [it] very much because I am [the] owner of my time and of my timing, and this is very fascinating for me. On the other hand, sometimes it might be difficult to find inspiration when you are always on your [own]. And that's why I find [it] particularly inspiring to play with orchestra and and also chamber music, because the meeting with other people and other musicians and other points of view about music is always very enriching.

Brian McCreath And now that you've you've rehearsed here in Symphony Hall for a bit, tell me your thoughts about Symphony Hall. It's a place that we take a lot of pride in, but tell me what your impressions were when you first started performing in here.

Beatrice Rana Well, now I see why you are so proud. It's absolutely a fantastic hall. The sound is so bright and luminous, and so warm at the same time. So it has been already a gift to rehearse in such a space. And of course, the sound of the Boston Symphony is absolutely amazing. So I have to say that I also missed a lot to play in the US because of the American sound of the orchestras that, yes, I miss very much and I didn't realize until I arrived here. Because of course, with life before the pandemic, everything was somehow taken for granted. And then to be here after two years and to experience that, I think it has a different taste.

Brian McCreath Well, we're thrilled that you're here. It's great to have you here with the Boston Symphony for the first time, and I'm glad the hall, the reputation has upheld with you. So, Beatrice Rana, thanks so much for your time today. I appreciate it.

Beatrice Rana Thank you very much.