Pianist Bianconi Earns His Welcome at MSO Concert

Pianist Bianconi Earns His Welcome at MSO Concert

French pianist Philippe Bianconi filled the Overture Center for his sixth weekend performance Friday and earned the cheering, standing ovation he received by playing an exhausting 40-minute performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra.”

To be sure, we expected to like him. He has been a favorite of Madison audiences in 2001, 2002, 2010, 2012 and 2013. We’re kind of used to him.

Nevertheless, piano experts say the Rachmaninoff is one of the hardest for musicians to play and Bianconi’s performance seemed faultless.

He has an unusual ability to seem relaxed even as he enters the most intense parts of a concert, as if he and the piano were old friends working together in an athletic competition. Which, in a way, is what a concert is.

He even got something of a standing ovation for his encore, Debussey’s “Reverie,” a far quieter and shorter piece of music.

The other pieces in this weekend’s concert – performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday – are Robert Schumann’s “Overture to Manfred” and Withold Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Orchestra.”

The “Concerto for Orchestra” got off to an awkward start with a long silence before conductor John DeMain returned to the stage. Finally, he came before the audience and explained that “my fourth trumpeter” can’t be found, though “he apparently is somewhere in the building.”

After a few more minutes, said trumpeter emerged from the wings – to some cheerful applause and the concerto was played.

Before I go further, I have to concede that the audience loved the Lutoslawski. Many rose to their feet and not only applauded but cheered loudly. My wife loved it. My friends loved it.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I didn’t love it.

It did feature most every instrument in the orchestra, including a large assortment of snare drums and, of course, the trumpet section.

Had they been playing music, it would have been better. But, as I noted above, mine is not the majority opinion, even within my own home — especially within my own home.

And the Schumann, that was nice. It is based on a poem by Lord Byron, and is fairly lyrical. It doesn’t stir up great emotion, but it was a pleasant beginning to a good concert.