January 29, 2019

Orion Weiss Piano
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1
Jacomo Bairos Conductor
Amarillo Symphony

The Amarillo Symphony, in concerts January 18 and 19, performed works whose common theme might be nationalism. Piano Concerto No. 1 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky evokes a new Russian sound, in the genre of Borodin and Mussorgsky. Symphony No. 5 by Jean Sibelius paints a musical picture of Finland while advocating the cause of Finnish independence.

This Tchaikovsky was the piece played by the Texan Van Cliburn when he won the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.

There are those who remember his Amarillo concert on a snowy January night in 1966: I recall three encores at least.

For this Amarillo concert, the slightly built and comedic Orion Weiss was the soloist. From the opening chord he took control of the Steinway to dominate both the keyboard and the piece.

It’s unfortunate that sometimes the soloist modulated the dynamics causing the symphony to play over the piano.

Still, this work remains a crowd-pleaser, with this audience showing their appreciation through two curtain calls and an ensuing encore.

Jean Sibelius remains as enigmatic as he is iconic. The last thirty-one years of his life he composed nothing, living with and through alcoholism into his nineties.

Yet he remains the musical voice of Finland, and Symphony No. 5, premiered in 1915, represents a template for much of his oeuvre.

Claiming his inspiration was a flight of swans, the symphony extols the wonder of tractless primeval forest and innumerable lakes that dominate the Finnish landscape below the circle.

Yet, embedded in this epic tone poem is the call for full Finnish independence. Finland, at this time, existed as a semi-autonomous duchy of the Russian Empire, an empire fractured by war and threatened by revolution.

This work, because of the realization two years later of independence, can be seen as a harbinger of that dream.

An audience half a world away and a century removed were graced by the beauty of that dream, as well as by a work considered the apex of collaboration between piano soloist and orchestra. That we in the heart of the Texas Panhandle could enjoy such sublime artistry made us all feel very fortunate.

That’s why we say: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!!”

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