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THE SOUND

May 10, 2012
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Two decades later, Douglas is still golden

By Chad Taylor
soundcheck@dmcityview.com

Barry Douglas performs Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 12, and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 13. The Symphony also performs work from Samuel Barber, Arturo Marquez and Leonard Bernstein. Tickets range from $15-$55 and are available through Ticketmaster or at the Civic Center Box Office.

Generally regarded as one of the most gifted pianists of all time, his compositions reflect his immense technical ability. Heavy in their use of chromatic counterpoint, Rachmaninoff’s compositions are some of the most ingeniously structured pieces of classical piano music to come from the Romantic era.

Rachmaninoff wrote four piano concertos, with Concerto No. 3 (“Rach 3” to its friends) being a particularly demanding, unforgiving piece to perform. Rach 3 is revered among pianists for its level of beauty, chromatic complexity and difficulty. Gary Graffman — the man behind the version of “Rhapsody In Blue” that’s been used in just about every movie or TV show to feature the piece — once said that he wished he’d learned Rach 3 as a student, “when I was still too young to know fear.”

Barry Douglas plays it like it’s no big deal.

“I’ve been playing it for a very long time,” said Douglas in a phone interview from San Antonio, Texas. “It’s a fabulous piece of music, full of great melodies and great power.”

Douglas, 52, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and has been at the top of his game since 1986. That was the year when he took his place among the stars — at the age of 25 — by becoming the first non-Russian in nearly 30 years to claim the gold medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. While his talent and remarkable ability seem to be a custom match for the likes of signature pieces like Rach 3, Douglas is quick to defer on any natural preference.

“(Rachmaninoff) is a wonderful composer,” he said. “For me, it’s a pleasure really. (But) I think it’s for other people to judge whether I have an affinity or not. But I feel very comfortable.”

Douglas is in the middle of a far-roaming tour that has seen him play in some of the world’s premier venues. Before coming to the U.S., Douglas toured China, and once he finishes his dates here in the capital city, he heads off to finish the tour in South America. When he’s not touring on his own, the ever-busy Douglas works closely with Camerata Ireland, an all-Ireland orchestra he founded in 1999.

“One of the purposes of the orchestra is to show that Ireland has wonderful musicians, wonderful vocalists. So we travel a lot internationally,” he said.

But in addition to showcasing Ireland’s current top talent, the orchestra also educates the young men and women who will continue the tradition, through its annual residency program.

“(Camerata Ireland) has the patronage of the Queen and President Higgins, and it’s to encourage and nurture young talent.”

While he devotes much of his time to Camerata Ireland, Douglas relishes the chance to tour to new places (this is his Iowa debut), and to play for new ears.

“It’s great music,” he said. “The trick is to get something across to the audience…that moves them.” CV



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