VALDOSTA — Valdosta Symphony Orchestra has a big weekend coming.
The “Celebration” concert marks the start of the orchestra’s 20th season. It honors the late Leona S. Hudson for her donation to the VSO. It marks new conductor Howard Hsu’s first season with the orchestra.
And the concert welcomes the return of pianist Robert Henry, a Georgia native whose performances have earned national and international acclaim.
Henry is scheduled to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s Fantasia in C Minor, also known as “Choral Fantasy.” The orchestra is also set to perform Dvorak’s overture “My Home” and Verdi’s “Triumphal March and Ballet” from “Aida.”
The Valdosta Daily Times conducted an e-mail interview with Henry.
THE VALDOSTA DAILY TIMES: Many visiting artists perform one piece with the orchestra. You are performing two. How difficult is preparation for two featured selections during one evening’s performance?
ROBERT HENRY: “Concertos are generally more difficult than most solo repertoire. Composers write them for the artist, not the student, and Beethoven in particular did not care one bit if a performer complained about the difficulty of one of his works. He was interested in music. Despite the technical difficulties, the process of preparing a concerto is in some ways easier than preparing a solo recital. A typical solo recital is 90 minutes, and the soloist is responsible for every second of those 90 minutes. There is a great deal of organization and planning that goes into shaping 90 minutes of sound. It is mentally taxing. However, in collaborative works, the pressure is shared amongst the musicians, and the music just takes flight right there on the stage.
“Another point: Even though the music is written out note for note, it is impossible to show up to a concerto performance with your mind made up about everything; part of the fun is discovering what the conductor and the orchestra members have come up with. So, concertos demand on-the-fly flexibility, much like jazz.”
THE VALDOSTA DAILY TIMES: The Grieg and Beethoven selections: How do you see these works complementing and contrasting one another?
ROBERT HENRY: “Well, they are both extremely virtuosic. Beethoven’s opening cadenza easily reaches the limits of piano technique up until that time. It would be unfair to compare Beethoven’s pianism to Grieg’s; a lot happened in 50 years. The Grieg is much more difficult.
“When I first heard Beethoven’s ‘Fantasy,’ I thought it a bit kitschy. But as with most things in art, when we don’t understand something, the fault is usually our own, and I have come to love and admire this ‘Fantasy.’ By definition, a Fantasy is unpredictable, the harmonies darting, the structure unknown. And that’s part of the experience — you never know what’s coming. The similarities between it and the Ninth Symphony are obvious, including the fireworks at the end.
“The Grieg Concerto is nearly perfect. It is amazing to me that he wrote this within a few days’ time, and knowing this I try to unify the work as much as possible, sort of a stream of consciousness. I love all of these big Romantic Concertos with their five- and 10-minute cadenzas and soaring melodies. Any pianist who doesn’t feel like a god when playing the Grieg is lying.
“Preparing both at the same time has been a blast. When I tire of one, I can move to the other and back again. I’ve not been burned out even once. The programming of this concert is unusually good. Of course, as a pianist myself, I can easily say that, but for the audience member who loves good music and loves piano in particular, I can think of no other place to be on Saturday night.”
THE VALDOSTA DAILY TIMES: This is a return visit to Valdosta for you. When was the last time you were here, and do you recall what you performed with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra?
ROBERT HENRY: “2004. Beethoven’s Second.”
THE VALDOSTA DAILY TIMES: You are a Georgia native. Where were you born and raised in Georgia and where do you live now?
ROBERT HENRY: “Raised in Marietta, and my wife, Meryl, and I live in Jasper, Ga.”
THE VALDOSTA DAILY TIMES: “There is a great photo of you on roberthenry.org as a 7-year-old boy receiving a piano. When did you begin playing piano, and is there a singular event that created your passion for the piano?
ROBERT HENRY: “I began at 7, which is considered late by most. My parents took me to a Chet Atkins concert, and Chet’s opening act was a pianist who played “Rhapsody in Blue.” I turned to my parents and said, ‘I wanna play that.’”
Valdosta Symphony Orchestra presents the 20th season opener “Celebration.”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Whitehead Auditorium, Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood.
More information: Call (229) 333-2150; or visit the Web site (www.valdostasymphony.org).
Pianist returns for Beethoven, Grieg
VALDOSTA — Valdosta Symphony Orchestra has a big weekend coming.
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