The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s guest star this weekend, 25-year-old Italian concert pianist Beatrice Rana, has never played with the orchestra before, but five years ago, a weekend in North Texas changed her life.
Rana took home the silver medal in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, an award that propelled the talented young star to international renown. The acclaim is well-deserved — Rana is an intelligent artist who carefully adapts her approach to different composers and eras, and never seems to be showing off — but even she seems a little surprised by how quickly her star has risen.
“Competitions like the Cliburn can be really life-changing,” Rana says. “If I think back to the competition, to when I did it, it is even hard to recognize my life.”
After her second-place finish — in a competition in which, oddly enough, silver medalists often prove to be better and more renowned than the winners — Rana’s schedule booked up with performances across the globe.
“Of course I was very happy about it,” she says, “but at the same time, it’s quite shocking because you know you want to become a concert pianist, but you don’t know what it means.”
From Thursday through Sunday in Dallas, Rana will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Third Concerto, a bustling, chattering, cheerful piece composed in the 1920s and premiered in Chicago. The DSO has assembled an interesting program: Surrounding Prokofiev’s concerto are two much older, more classically styled symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven.
At the time that the Russian was writing his piece, on a vacation in France, he was considered a modernist and a boundary-pushing sensation. But the DSO and its guest conductor, 18th century specialist Nicholas McGegan, want to underline the similarities rather than dramatize the difference.
“In the modern music, there is this kind of refusal to the emotionally charged romanticism,” Rana says, “and that couples very well with the classical repertoire because classical repertoire was not so dramatic.”
Another similarity between Prokofiev and Haydn: “The interaction with the instruments and the way everyone behaves onstage is joyful," Rana says. "There is a lot ... happening.”
Joy and playfulness will be consistent themes this weekend. Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 is nicknamed “The Hen” because some say a theme in the first movement sounds like a clucking chicken. (You can kind of recognize it, in a “They thought that sounded like a hen?” way.) And Beethoven’s Second Symphony finds that composer’s usual heroic posturing tempered by youthful energy and optimism.
The Prokofiev concerto is harder to describe; it veers all over the map, which is part of its charm. Rana gamely attempts to sum it up for us anyway.
“There is always this balance between this incredibly playful and hectic attitude and this peaceful and static side,” she says. “In the second movement, it’s like you’re walking on the moon and you don’t know what you will find. It’s like there is no gravity.”
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First-time listeners, she thinks, will be surprised by something else.
“They will be for sure shocked by the connection with the Harry Potter movie because there is a place in the first movement where the harmonic progression is the same with the Harry Potter soundtrack," she says. "That shows how the contemporary music is taking from the past.”
That idea might as well be the theme of this weekend’s program. If you hear bits of Prokofiev that John Williams borrowed for a Hollywood movie, listen also for connections among the fast-fingered Russian firebrand and the more straight-laced German composers whose works preceded his by over a century. In the hands of great artists, everything old can be made new again.
Visit mydso.com for tickets.