Spencer Myer

Pianist Spencer Myer will perform with members of the Missoula Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday at the Top Hat Lounge.

Courtesy photo

Award-winning pianist Spencer Myer will glide through one of his favorite pieces of music this coming weekend with the Missoula Symphony Orchestra.

The Juilliard graduate loves Rachmaninoff’s "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" for many reasons, but one is the colorful orchestra parts, studded with great solos.

There's also the interplay between the piano and the other players.

"It's not the typical piano concerto," he said. "The orchestra isn't just in the background."

Then there's the Russian composer's writing for the piano. He was a virtuoso on the instrument, and he wrote at his own level.

"All of his piano concertos are written with his technique in mind," Myer said.

It's difficult music, he noted, but takes full advantage of the instrument and is "technically economical."

In "Rhapsody," Myer said, the composer uses every possible way to create variations on the theme, including the well-known 18th variation. That's where he "flips the main theme of the piece upside down" to create a beautiful highlight of the work, Myer said.

Rachmaninoff, who died in 1943 at age 69, worked during a time of upheaval in the world of classical music, in which Stravinsky pushed the limits of tonality and Schoenberg developed 12-tone music.

Myer admires him because he "stuck to what spoke to his heart."

There was intense pressure to break boundaries at the time, Myer said, but Rachmaninoff continued to draw on the Romantic harmonies and sensibility that he identified with.

MSO artistic director Darko Butorac called the piece "Romantic with a capital 'R.' "

The theme for the symphony's concert is "Keys to the Heart."

Rounding out the Valentine's-themed program are two selections by fellow Russian composers.

That includes Stravinsky’s "Symphony of Psalms," which Butorac described as a "very spiritual work" that will be performed with the MSO Chorale; and Tchaikovsky’s "Romeo and Juliet."

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