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Rachmaninoff's Dazzling Third Piano Concerto, with Yunchan Lim and the BSO

A picture of Yuncham Lim mid performance. He wears a black suit and plays an opened piano with the audience behind him. He has shaggy dark brown hair that's whipping up in the air in this action shot. His eyes are closed and his mouth is slightly open. The music is moving through him.
Richard Rodriguez
Courtesy of IMG Artists
Pianist Yuncham Lim

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Encore broadcast on Monday, February 26

South Korean pianist Yunchan Lim won the gold medal in the 2022 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, becoming the youngest person ever to do so. His final round performance featured Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece he performs with the BSO at Symphony Hall with returning guest conductor Tugan Sokhiev. Sokhiev also leads a rarity: French composer Ernest Chausson’s only symphony and the composer’s masterpiece, the passionate Symphony in B-flat.

Tugan Sokhiev, conductor
Yunchan Lim, piano

Sergei RACHMANINOFF Piano Concerto No. 3
Ernest CHAUSSON Symphony in B-flat

This concert is no longer available on demand.

To hear a preview of the program with Tugan Sokhiev, use the player above, and read the transcript below.

See Chausson's brother-in-law Henry Lerolle's painting "The Organ Rehearsal," depicting Chausson at the organ console, a the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

TRANSCRIPT (lightly edited for clarity):

Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Tugan Sokhiev, who has returned to the Boston Symphony for the first time in a few years, I think Tugan. Thank you for a little bit of your time today, I appreciate it.

Tugan Sokhiev Thank you very much. I'm very happy to be back in Boston since 2018 because, you know, now we divide now our lives pre-COVID, post-Covid. So, unfortunately during Covid, I couldn't return, for obvious reasons. And I'm very happy finally to be back and meet again this wonderful orchestra in this beautiful Symphony Hall and your great, passionate audience.

Brian McCreath And, I do remember those two weeks you were here. Prokofiev [Symphony No.] 5 was, I think, one of the pieces you conducted. Really exciting couple of weeks, but this week, also very exciting. Let me ask you first about, Yunchan Lim, who is the soloist in Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto. Is this a soloist you've worked with before?

Tugan Sokhiev No, this is the first time I'll collaborate with him, and he is the winner of the Van Cliburn Competition. He's very young. He studies in Boston, so he's kind of Bostonian a bit. Extremely talented, very musical young man. And I think he's got a huge future ahead of him. So, for him to be able, at that age, to do a debut with the Boston Symphony, that's quite a challenge. But he's coping really well, and he's doing beautiful music. So we are all very happy to accompany him.

Brian McCreath And as you say, he's studying at NEC, just down the block from where we are right now with Minsoo Sohn, whom he studied with for many years. You say he studies in Boston, but it's hard to see where he does that in his calendar because he's making so many debuts with so many orchestras around the world right now. So I'm glad to hear that this is your first time with him.

I imagine that the Rachmaninoff was sort of presented as part of this program when you began talking with the BSO, due to our soloist and his association with it. Tell me about how you decided to think through the rest of the program and why the Chausson Symphony in B-flat was the choice that you made to accompany it?

Tugan Sokhiev Well, since Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto is such a popular concerto and a really, really big, proper first half concerto, I thought, why don't we counteract it with something I have been doing quite a lot recently, which is discovering and presenting to orchestras around the world and to the public the music which they don't necessarily know but deserves to be known. So, Chausson's Symphony B[-flat], which is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful romantic, melodic, lyrical symphonies written in French repertoire.

But even the orchestra players, the members of the orchestra, whenever, whether they do it in Berlin or I do it somewhere else, or even now in Boston, they know all these other music, like the violinists would know Chausson's Poeme for violin and the orchestra. But nobody ever heard about the- they didn't even know he wrote this symphony. And I think it merits this attention. And then once we start rehearsing it and playing it, you could see how much they're enjoying playing it and the beautiful melodies and the harmonies and the whole structure.

He was a pupil of Franck. So you do hear a bit of influence from Franck, who was also an organist, and there is a bit of organ structure in the parts of the symphony where you imagine the foot pedal suddenly, you know, when the double basses represent a foot pedal of the organ. So it is wonderful, so Romantic and an almost melancholic second movement. You know, it's only three movements. And a very fiery, energetic Finale. So I do hope that, the Boston public will like it and appreciate it. And they will add something to their repertoire. Knowledge as something they've never heard before.

Brian McCreath It has a little bit of a Boston Symphony history because this orchestra recorded it many, many years ago with Charles Munch. And yet it hasn't been done here in over 30 years. So I think that there are definitely many of the players in the orchestra who have not played it before. And so I can imagine their reaction. As you say, you've conducted it in many places, the Berlin Philharmonic among them, and you describe it in fantastic terms as this great piece and a little bit of a relationship to Franck, but what more can you say about your commitment to this piece? What is it that this piece shows within an orchestra or even shows us about Chausson that no other piece could show us?

Tugan Sokhiev I think the language of Chausson is very unique, and it's immediately recognizable by those who know a bit of his music. I think he was very brave in certain areas, for example, where he takes the harmony, or where he takes the whole structure of the orchestra, the orchestration, where he would suddenly write the melody for one of the low instruments, like the low flute or the oboe. It's very interesting also the articulation of the violins. There are a couple of challenging virtuoso moments, which you have to particularly rehearse because they're very difficult. He knew how to write for string players very well. And I always find that players in the orchestra, musicians always find it easy to play. There are challenges. You have to rehearse it and you have to work a little bit. But it's very playable. It's music which is very playable.

And I think if you go back to the times of Charles Munch, which you mentioned, it's interesting to remark that the repertoire priorities have changed. The composers which were very popular in those days, 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago, today are completely forgotten. And today we listen to other composers. But I think there was a reason why those generations, even like 90 years ago, 100 years ago, did like that music, right? They bought tickets. They came to listen to it. So I thought, why don't we start broadening our repertoire appetite, rather than just sticking to Tchaikovsky['s Symphony No.] 5, Rachmaninoff['s Symphony No.] 2, and, you know, Shostakovich['s Symphony No.] 5. Let's start today. We are so much further on, musically speaking, and why don't we remember what's been forgotten undeservedly.

Brian McCreath And when you conduct this piece with different orchestras in different places, you yourself led for many years in orchestra in France, in Toulouse, and so I wonder about the style that may be important for playing this music, this particular symphony or music by Franck, other French composers, and what that's like to try to find that style within the Boston Symphony.

Tugan Sokhiev I think the major key, generally, for French music, but maybe particularly for Chausson, is colors. French music does not exist without colors. It's actually fundamentally based, even if you, go back to Berlioz, who is more of a Beethoven contemporary than the French music that we are talking about today. But still he has so many colors, and it's a part of the mentality. It's a part of the language, it's part of the culture. Structure is important, but in a way the structure is built by colors. And the symphony orchestra is a perfect example of different colors. You've got strings, winds, brass, percussion and how you combine them. And within each section, within those combinations also, you have a different gradations.

And I think it's incredibly interesting for conductors always, especially if you've got somebody like the Boston Symphony, you can really push it. We can really experiment and you can really go to the far end of searching for these special French music colors. It could be transparency in very delicate moments. It could be power, but power not in the way we imagine in Strauss or Brahms or Bruckner or Beethoven. It's a power which comes with this romantic panache. And it's always elegant, always elegant. I think French composers, whenever they even go to big climaxes, it remains always elegant. And I think the challenge for the conductor and for the orchestra always is to find good taste, because the moment you overdo it, it sounds vulgar. Stylistically, maybe French music is the most challenging.

Brian McCreath It's so interesting to hear you put it that way, because in the last few weeks here in Symphony Hall, we've heard Bartok, in Bluebeard's Castle, we heard Shostakovich, in Lady Macbeth. And yet I just listened to you conduct the BSO. And yes, this piece has an enormous amount of power and volume to it. It fills the hall, but it is a different quality. It is not like hearing the loud parts of Bartok or Shostakovich. It's a very, very different quality. And I wonder, compared to other places that you perform this symphony, how much Symphony Hall itself helps with achieving that elegance that you describe?

Tugan Sokhiev I think so, I think generally speaking, Chausson is a composer who. In a very strange way, even... For example, I have experience of doing a lot of his Poeme with different violinists. And when you play that, it somehow I've always found that Chausson creates the acoustic, his own acoustic within the piece.

And even if you're not in the most wonderful acoustics - which is contrary to Symphony Hall, here in Boston, it's wonderful acoustics, it's very generous, it's warm, it projects - I always found it, by the way of orchestrating Chausson almost already thought about acoustic. He creates self acoustic, self chamber of a sound where by interacting those certain instruments create a certain vibrations where they create an acoustic. It's a very weird way of saying it, but that's how I feel it. With some other composers, for example, Debussy wouldn't necessarily sound soft enough and rich enough in the dry acoustic. But with Chausson it somehow works. It's strange. I think maybe he was a visionary. Such a shame he died so early. He might have influenced the development of French music in a completely different way and much further. So such a shame we lost him.

Brian McCreath It is tragic, given that there were sketches and ideas that were found amongst his papers at the time of his death. Really, really tragic. Well, anyway, it's great to have you here. It's great to hear this piece. Also great to hear Rachmaninoff with our soloist. But thank you Tugan Sokhiev for a little of your time today. I appreciate it.

Tugan Sokhiev Thank you very much.