The Spokane Symphony has a triple celebration in store for its audiences this weekend.
The concerts at The Fox on Saturday and Sunday will be early observances of Valentine’s Day. And the program will honor the 200th anniversary of the births of Robert Schumann and Frédéric Chopin.
Music Director Eckart Preu will conduct Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Orion Weiss. The program also includes Arnold Schoenberg’s romantic tone poem “Transfigured Night.”
Though both Schumann and Chopin were born in 1810, orchestras and soloists have been staging bicentennial observances throughout the 2010-’11 season.
Chopin soloist Weiss has established an enviable career both as a soloist and a chamber musician.
The 29-year-old pianist was born in Iowa City, Iowa, and at age 3 began music studies at the Preucil School of Music, one of the earliest U.S. schools using the Suzuki method for very young children.
The family soon moved to Cleveland, where Weiss grew up in suburban Lyndhurst.
“My parents loved music, but they are both medical doctors, not musicians,” Weiss says. “Even though I started studying when I was 3, I didn’t really start practicing seriously until I was 15, unfortunately.”
Despite that, by the time he was 17, Weiss made his debut with the Cleveland Orchestra performing Liszt’s formidable Concerto No. 1.
Later that year, on less than 24 hours notice, he replaced André Watts in a performance of Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 2 with the Baltimore Symphony.
Weiss studied piano with Paul Schenly at the Cleveland Institute of Music and later with Emmanuel Ax at the Juilliard School in New York.
“Before I went to Juilliard,” Weiss recalls, “my piano teacher told me, ‘Don’t you leave Juilliard without studying Chopin’s First Concerto with Emmanuel Ax; he plays it better than anyone else in the world.’
“(Ax) was the role model for how to approach music lovingly and seriously, respecting composers and seeking to ferret out the mysteries in their music.”
While Weiss studied Chopin’s First Concerto with Ax, he says he’s played the composer’s Second Concerto much more often.
“It has been a while since I have played the First Concerto, so I’m feeling very fresh and excited about it,” he says.
“It’s a paradigm of Chopin’s ability to write meltingly beautiful melodies and the way he can combine and develop themes. It’s a genius piece, but oh, so hard.”
A week after playing the piece in Spokane, Weiss will perform it in Memphis, where Preu will be the guest conductor.
Weiss has performed with such major orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony as well as solo recitals and performances at such music festivals as Chamber Music Northwest and the Seattle Chamber Music Festival.
In 2010 he was named the Classical Recording Foundation’s Young Artist of the Year.
“Part of that award was (being able to do) a recording of solo music by Dvorak, Prokofiev and Bartók on the Naxos label,” the pianist says.
“I’m editing it right now, and Naxos has scheduled its release in February 2012. These things take more time than you expect.”
Weiss is married to pianist Anna Polonsky, and the couple live in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan. They are frequent partners in concerts of music for four hands at one piano and in two-piano work.
“Luckily, we have three pianos in our house plus an electric keyboard for late at night,” Weiss says, “so there’s no argument over who gets the piano.”
Opening this weekend’s concerts is Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night,” the composer’s expression of the feelings of a pair of lovers walking on a moonlit night, one revealing a painful secret, the other’s loving reassurance.
The concerts will close with Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 (“The Spring”), the work in which he plunged into symphonic composition in snowy February 1841 after having previously written nearly exclusively for piano or songs for voice and piano.
Preu and Weiss will discuss the music on this weekend’s program in pre-concert talks one hour before each performance.
The symphony is offering ticketholders a Valentine’s package of a rose and a small box of Bloem chocolates for $10. Orders need to be placed by noon Friday through The Fox box office by phone or online, or through TicketsWest outlets.
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