Orion Weiss plays Rachmaninoff with KSO

Guest pianist Orion Weiss joins the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for its season opening performances on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 20-21.

Guest pianist Orion Weiss joins the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for its season opening performances on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 20-21.

It hadn't occurred to gifted young pianist Orion Weiss, who will perform with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra's season opening concert on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 20-21, that he could make a living playing the piano until he was 20 and in college.

"I played music just because I loved doing it," Weiss said during a telephone conversation from his home in New York, where he is pinned up trying to get a severely sprained ankle back into walking condition.

"It didn't occur to me that music could be a career until my parents made me start paying my own way."

Asked how he got the name Orion, which certainly fits the stellar career he has had so far, Weiss replied, "My mother was a sort of a hippy and loved stargazing. She thought Orion would be a cool name and my dad just went along with it."

Named the Classical Recording Foundation's Young Artist of the Year in 2010, Weiss has performed with most of the major American orchestras. He first performed in Knoxville in 2004 when he played a Valentine's concert with the KSO Chamber Orchestra. In 2006, he was a last-minute replacement for Navah Perlman, in the Perlman-Schmidt-Bailey Trio in the Oak Ridge Civic Music Association's chamber concert. He returned to Oak Ridge for a recital the following season.

When his ankle isn't wrecked and he isn't hard at work preparing for a concert, Weiss likes to run. "I like running because it's a nice time to be with my thoughts," he said. "It's an opportunity to play music in my head, but there's no sound."

Weiss' free time and peacefulness is about to change, however, because Weiss and his wife, pianist Anna Polonsky, with whom he often performs, are expecting their first child.

For Weiss' KSO performances, he will be playing Sergei Rachmaninoff's 1901 "Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor," Op. 18.

"This piece is so spectacular," Weiss said. "It is so joyful and full of gorgeous melodies."

The concerto was written three years after the disastrous premiere of his first symphony, which was soundly derided by the critics of the day. Although it is now considered one of Rachmaninoff's masterpieces, the first symphony's initial pounding was a severe blow to Rachmaninoff's confidence.

He fell into a prolonged clinical depression. The "C Minor" concerto, dedicated to Nikolai Dahl, the physician who helped Rachmaninoff recover, signaled his return as a composer and performer.

The concerto's gorgeous melodies have been featured prominently in several movies, beginning with David Lean's 1945 "Brief Encounter," and most recently in Clint Eastwood's 2010 film "Hereafter."

Also on the program for this pair of concerts is Brahms's "Academic Festival Overture," Copland's rhythmically complex "El Salon Mexico" and KSO conductor Lucas Richman's own "Summer Excursions." This season marks Richman's 10th anniversary as music director of the KSO.

Concertgoers are reminded that KSO concerts, beginning this season, will begin at 7:30 p.m.

'Ravishing Rachmaninoff'

What: Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Sept. 20 and 21

Where: Tennessee Theatre

Tickets: 865-291-3310 or www.knoxvillesymphony.com

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