Maestro at the piano: Eduard Zilberkant takes a seat in the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra

Maestro Eduard Zilberkant passes the baton for a seat at the piano with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra. Zilberkant will play Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3.

FAIRBANKS — It doesn’t happen often, but the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra will have a guest conductor Sunday when Italy’s Pietro Borgonovo ascends the podium.

The orchestra will not be without Eduard Zilberkant, its regular conductor and musical director. This time out, though, Zilberkant becomes a member of the orchestra as a piano soloist, performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra.

Zilberkant has conducted the orchestra from the piano before, but the Rachmaninoff composition requires too much concentration and technical ability to do both, he said.

“This is one of the concertos that one cannot conduct from the piano,” he explained during a phone interview from Washington state, where he was touring and performing the piece. “If it was one of those concertos, like the Beethoven or Mozart, a lot of times the soloist will conduct from the piano. With something as big as any of these romantic concertos, and especially with something as complicated as the Rachmaninoff, I do need another conductor.”

Borgonovo comes to Fairbanks with plenty of experience. Borgonovo is well known in Italy, where he specializes in conducting opera, Zilberkant said. This performance, which also includes Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont and Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn (best known as the Haydn Variations), is a perfect fit for Borgonovo, Zilberkant said.

“He’s an opera conductor, so he’s used to dealing with a lot of flexibility,” Zilberkant said. “I wanted to work with somebody familiar with the Rachmaninoff concerto because there is such interplay between the soloist and the orchestra that you need a conductor who is very flexible and able to follow all these things.”

Zilberkant noted that Borgonovo’s flexibility will serve him well in the Haydn Variations. The 10 movements of the composition follow a familiar musical theme, but each takes on a singular individuality.

“As a conductor you can sort of ‘make’ each variation, because even though it’s the same theme, each has certain quirks in it,” he explained. “There are a lot of elements you can use to control the shape of the lines, and Borgonovo is great at this.”

He added, “It’s a great chance for the orchestra to work with a great conductor. It adds another perspective to the orchestra.”

FSO conductor Eduard Zilberkant reflects on performing Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3. He calls the composition "one of the monuments of piano literature."

The Rachmaninoff composition, at 45 minutes in length, takes up the second half of the show. It is an emotional ride complete with lush melodies, intricate harmonies and passionate interludes and crescendos that pull at the heart.

“It’s filled with everything Rachmaninoff has to offer,” he said, noting that the full orchestra will be in place, adding to the drama and beauty. “The audience is taken on such a tremendous emotional ride, musically, spiritually and visually watching the pianist demonstrate all the pyrotechnical movements and incredible climbs. … It’s one of the monuments of piano literature.”

Zilberkant explained that the preparation required to perform this piece is not unlike the training necessary to run a marathon or climb Mount Everest. Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra is considered one of the most challenging piano concertos ever written — “at the top of the list,” Zilberkant said.

“It’s the kind of piece that requires the pianist to go into incredible training. Not a lot of concertos require this type of endurance,” he said. “Because of the difficulties in performing this, it’s not something you get to hear very often. To master it and play is just such a joy for me. When I have an opportunity to play it I jump at it.”

The last time Zilberkant performed this concerto in Fairbanks was in 1998 with Madeline Schatz conducting.

“It’s been 10 or 12 years, so I felt it was time to perform it here again,” he said. “It’s one of the most exciting works out there for piano and orchestra.”—Glenn BurnSilver
(This article appeared March 25 in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.)

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