Garrick Ohlsson, the only American to capture the top prize in the prestigious Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition, returns to Oklahoma City this week to perform with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. He'll be the featured soloist in the “Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor” by Johannes Brahms.
Subtitled “Legends,” the third of eight concerts in the orchestra's classics series also will feature the “Suite No. 1” from Edvard Grieg's “Peer Gynt” and Franz Liszt's “Mephisto Waltz No. 1.” Joel Levine will conduct.
“With the ‘Mephisto Waltz,' we get the Faust legend,” Levine said. “It's a tone poem about a sleepy celebration that is taken over by Faust and Mephistopheles. And ‘Peer Gynt' is (Henrik Ibsen's) Norse legend that is set to some of Grieg's most beautiful music.”
Completed in 1858, Brahms' first piano concerto is epic both in terms of length, about 50 minutes, and pianistic demands that range from intricate technical displays to passages that require great stamina from the soloist.
The concerto's premiere in January 1859 was met with polite applause but little understanding on the part of the audience. Brahms wrote to his friend Joseph Joachim that his concerto had been “a brilliant and decisive failure.”
Of course Brahms was only 25 years old when he composed this concerto, and he was still struggling to find his compositional voice. And despite its lukewarm premiere, the D Minor concerto became a popular favorite and today is included in virtually every pianist's repertoire.
“There's an honesty and a humanity about Brahms' music that no one else matches,” Levine said. “Between the bass line on the bottom and the melody on top, there is all of this rich writing in the middle. Ohlsson's ability to highlight those interior voicings makes him the perfect soloist for this concerto.
“This work is extremely rich, and it features all the little rhythmic tricks that Brahms is known for. It also reveals a soloist's musicianship. There are composers whose music could be described as exciting or brilliant, but when it comes to depth, the most revealing composer is Brahms.”