On Saturday, January 28, 7:30 p.m. at the Helena Civic Center, the Helena Symphony Orchestra presents critically-acclaimed Pianist Jon Nakamatsu and works by Claude Debussy, Benjamin Britten, and Tchaikovsky.

Making his debut with the Helena Symphony Orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s irresistible and virtuosic First Piano Concerto, American Pianist Jon Nakamatsu continues to draw unanimous praise as a true aristocrat of the keyboard, whose playing combines elegance, clarity, and electrifying power. A native of California, Mr. Nakamatsu came to international attention in 1997 when he was named Gold Medalist of the world-acclaimed Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the only American to have achieved this distinction since 1981. Mr. Nakamatsu has performed widely in North and South America, Europe, and the Far East, in addition to performing for President Bill Clinton at the White House.   Mr. Nakamatsu has appeared in concert with orchestras, chamber groups, and in solo recitals thoughout the world, including recent appearances in New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, and in Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Paris, London, and Milan.

Many great Romantic artists are plagued by inner demons that haunt their lives and often destroy them.  Beethoven lost his hearing, Schumann lost his sanity, and Brahms was sickened with a broken heart.  Tchaikovsky, too, was stricken with his own inner turmoil.   As a sensitive, shy, yet eager child, young Tchaikovsky had turbulent formative years.  Forced to relocate throughout his childhood, Tchaikovsky and his brother were banished to a factory-like boarding school.  At the age of 14, he lost his mother, of whom he was obsessively fond, to cholera.  During his younger years he was prone to sudden fits of neurosis, ironically induced by the very music he loved.  In addition, the composer attempted to shield his homosexuality from the world with a failed marriage. It is not surprising, then, that Tchaikovsky suffered most of his life with a bi-polar disorder, and suffered through long bouts of depression.  He eventually died in very unclear circumstances believed to be suicide.  Perhaps Tchaikovsky’s most often told tale is associated with his Piano Concerto No. 1.  While he was not a great pianist, Tchaikovsky sought the opinion of friend and pianist Nikolai Rubinstein regarding the Piano Concerto.  On Christmas Eve in 1874 Tchaikovsky played the entire first movement at the piano for Rubinstein, who replied that the work was “worthless, impossible to play, unoriginal … and only two or three pages can be salvaged and the rest must be thrown away.”  Devastated, Tchaikovsky refused to alter a single note.  Today, the work is one of the staples of symphonic repertoire for piano soloist.

The concert also includes Claude Debussy’s rarely heard, reflective, and colorful Printemps (Spring), along with English composer Benjamin Britten’s orchestral excerpts from his opera and psychological thriller, Peter Grimes.  Considered the “impressionist composer,” Claude Debussy creates sensuous, fluid, subtly constructed music, yet supremely refined works that linked him with painters such as Monet, Renoir, and Seurat.  For Debussy, music was rooted in memory. “Collect impressions,” Debussy wrote.  “Don’t be in a hurry to write them down.  Because that’s something music can do better than painting: it can centralize variations of color and light within a single picture.”  This very statement became Debussy’s creed, mirroring statements from the impressionist and post-impressionist painters.

Benjamin Britten possessed the unique ability to capture an astonishing variety of moods through the eyes of the innocent.  Peter Grimes is a story of acceptance and lost innocence.  It has a similar sensibility that Arthur Miller conveys in his play The Crucible where one man’s character is under constant scrutiny, even if that man’s innocence is not always certain.  The opera wonderfully and uncomfortably offers a sympathetic portrayal of a social outcast; undertones of sexual ambiguity and abuse; and exposes the hypocrisy of an intolerant community easily given to scape-goating.

Mini-Subscriptions are still available for the reminder of the Season, and single tickets to the 2016-2017 Season can be purchased on line at helenasymphony.org, or by calling the Symphony Box Office (406.442.1860), or at the Symphony Box Office located on the corner of Broadway and the Walking Mall in the Livestock Building (2 N. Last Chance Gulch, Suite 1) between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.  Single concert ticket prices range from $52 to $12.  Subscription packages are available in several price ranges, and subscribers will be able to renew their seats, or select new seats, for the 2017-2018 Season before they go on sale to the public.

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