TEXARKANA, Texas — To round out a successful season of symphonic music, the Texarkana Symphony Orchestra puts the piano first with its Saturday, April 17, concert "Out of Keys."
Starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Perot Theatre with conductor Philip Mann at the helm, the TSO players explore the connection between the orchestra and piano.
Guest pianist Andrew von Oeyen is featured, playing Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto in C Minor." Additional selections include Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and Alexander Glazunov's "Chopiniana."
"This is our big season closer. The purpose is to finish the season with a bang, a big, triumphant, revelatory bang that helps to sustain people over the summer with memories of something really spectacular," Mann said, noting the concert title has a bit of a pun.
"The reason for that is that all of the works on the program have their origin in works for keyboard and for piano," Mann said, noting that the Mussorgsky selection, which is "one of the most sought-after and requested show pieces in history," was originally a solo piano piece with a popular orchestration by Maurice Ravel.
"'Pictures at an Exhibition' tells the story of somebody processing through a promenade surrounded by an art exhibition," Mann said. "There is a theme that is this promenade theme that begins at the very beginning of the piece in a solo trumpet, and at the very end of the piece finishes in an extraordinary, spectacular fashion."
During the procession, a listener meets these works of art with their larger-than-life characters and evocative imagery, Mann said.
"Mussorgsky and then Ravel's orchestration really paint those pictures with sound," Mann said, calling it the kind of piece that gets people hooked on classical music.
Then there's the Rachmaninoff piece, a work that's easy to love, the conductor said, emphasizing the "cinematic grandeur" to it.
"It may be the most popular and beloved piano concerto. It's certainly in the conversation of the top three. I would venture to say that if you look at the programming history of that work around the world, it's probably programmed more than any other piano concerto. And it's been a while since Texarkana Symphony has played it," Mann said.
Said Mann about the concerto, "It is a show piece, a virtuoso piece, for the pianist, and we have a fantastic, an exceptional pianist coming in, Andrew von Oeyen, who has local ties," he said, noting the pianist has family connections to Texarkana and the Dallas metroplex.
"I've worked with him in several other cities and have always had just a superlative experience. He's a consummate performer. He's a fantastic pianist, and I think he will immediately resonate with our audiences," Mann said, calling Rachmaninoff's melodies beguiling.
"The combination of the Rachmaninoff and the Mussorgsky create a program that one might see at the great concert halls of the world to end the season, but they're so popular and beloved you might find it at a place like the Hollywood Bowl even," Mann said.
As for von Oeyen, he's performed the world over with many of the great orchestras, including Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony, Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, Ravinia Festival Orchestra, Geneva Chamber Orchestra, Spoleto USA Orchestra and many others.
And in the Glazunov, Mann said these pieces will be recognizable.
"They're some of (Frederic) Chopin's most well known melodies and works that have then been orchestrated by Glazunov the same way that Ravel orchestrated the Mussorgsky," Mann said. "In a way, the orchestra is essentially a piano this weekend."
Looking back on the 2020-2021 season, Mann finds himself proud of what the TSO accomplished despite COVID-19.
"I think all of Texarkana can be very proud of what the orchestra has accomplished this year in being a leader in performance during the pandemic. We have been among very few orchestras that have in a safe and smart fashion mounted large-scale performances," Mann said. "We have not a single case that we know of that has arisen from our performance activities."
He said the opportunity for musicians to play and share their art was life-changing.
"It has been an extraordinary effort that required the energies and talents and contributions of so many people to make it work," Mann said.
A concert preview starts at 6:40 p.m.
(Tickets: $48, $37, $26 with half-priced tickets for students and other discounts. Call or visit the Perot Theatre box office to purchase tickets: 903-792-4992.)