All Rachmaninoff concert set by TICO

By David Amos

David Amos

David Amos

Karen Follingstad

Karen Follingstad

SAN DIEGO — If you ring the doorbell at our home, you will not hear the traditional “buzz” or “ding-dong.” Instead, you will hear Paganini’s 24th Caprice for solo violin. This is by far not an obscure tune. I am sure that you have heard it played in various arrangements and transformations. Since Paganini wrote it, sometime in the middle of the 19th Century, many other composers, famous and far less famous have been intrigued by this melody, and have composed their own set of variations based on the original, which is very recognizable and catchy.

One of the most famous adaptations of this Caprice is the one by Sergei Rachmaninoff. He could arguably be called the last of the great Romantic composers with roots in the 19th Century, but extending to the mid-1940’s. His four piano concertos, especially #2 and #3 are among the favorites with pianists and audiences alike, including his “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.” It is a set of 24 dazzling variations of the theme. Listen for Variation #18. It is an inversion (played upside down!) of the original tune, but played very slowly and softly, and recognized as one of most romantic and unforgettable melodies of all time.

This will be the concluding selection in Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra’s all-Rachmaninoff concerts of Sunday, April 3, at 3:00 p.m., and Tuesday the 5th at 7:30 p.m. Both programs will be at the Cohen Social Hall of Tifereth Israel Synagogue.

For the Paganini-Rachmaninoff “Rhapsody”, we are very pleased to present as piano soloist Dr. Karen Follingstad, who has been Professor of Piano at San Diego State University since 1984. She has also taught at Kent State University, the University of Akron, and was artist-faculty at the Kent-Blossom Music Festival from 1992-94, where she coached chamber music and performed with principal members of the Cleveland Orchestra.

As a solo recitalist, Dr. Follingstad has performed extensively throughout Europe and North America, and has recorded for the Hessische Rundfunk and Norwegian Radio. She has appeared as soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Blossom Festival Orchestra, the San Diego Chamber Orchestra and the Bear Valley Music Festival Orchestra, among others.

Rachmaninoff was well known throughout his career as one the great virtuoso pianists. This was fine with him, but it wasn’t enough. He ached to be recognized, remembered, and respected as a composer. He even received treatments of Freudian psychoanalysis to control his depression and sadness when his earlier compositions received a cool reception from critics and audiences. But, his solo piano music, his chamber music, symphonies, and works for piano and orchestra quickly gained recognition, fame, and admiration.

He was a very serious and somber man, with occasional sparks of humor. He  spent several decades living in New York, and died in Beverly Hills in 1943.

The Tifereth Israel Orchestra will start the program with the composer’s last work, composed in 1940. He dedicated his brilliant and complex “Symphonic Dances” to Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It is comprised of three dances, beautifully orchestrated and rich in Romantic melodies and tonal color.

A couple of interesting things to note in the “Symphonic Dances”: It was the first and only time that Rachmaninoff used the alto saxophone in combination with orchestra. Not knowing much about this instrument, rarely used in classical music, he consulted with Robert Russell Bennet, a composer and sought-after orchestrator for many of the Broadway musicals of the 40’s and 50’s. Also, Rachmaninoff, being so serious and introverted, was obsessed by the subject of death. And, not surprisingly, he incorporated into many of his compositions the dreaded “Dies Irae,” Days of Awe, from the Roman Catholic Funeral Mass. Interestingly, and very much on purpose, the “Dies Iare” theme is found in both of the major works on this concert!

Many other composers have been attracted to this “Dies Irae” theme. Included in the list are Liszt, Berlioz, Saint-Saens, Morton Gould and others.

To lighten this emotional program of these two orchestral giants, TICO will play a short, but very popular work by Rachmaninoff. It is his “Vocalise” for Orchestra. Originally intended to be a vocal warm-up for singers, it is such a lyrical and beautiful miniature which has been sung and played by many instrumental combinations.

For more information on the concerts, individual or group tickets, reservations, or directions, call (619) 697 6001, or you can buy your tickets online at
Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has guest conducted professional orchestras around the world.  He may be contacted via [email protected].  Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter-writer’s first and last name and by his/her city and sate of residence.  (city and country for those living outside the United States.)

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