Because Sunday is the final concert of the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra’s 79th season, music director Charles Schneider wanted to make it special, inviting two young local musicians to perform.
Trumpeter Anthony Bellino, who won the orchestra’s 2009 Anthony Stefan Scholarship, and pianist Ryan Reilly, who won the 2007 Louise Parillo Competition, will be featured soloists. To top it off, Reilly will play local composer Joe Fennimore’s reorchestration of Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto.
“With Anthony, we didn’t get to spotlight him at the time he won the competition. His development since high school has been amazing, and his reputation has become widespread,” Schneider said in an email.
“The idea to invite Ryan back ties in with . . . the concerto. The work is extremely difficult, so we thought Ryan would be an excellent choice as he has really developed. He has quite a good local following.”
Also on the concert is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pastorale”), a perfect introduction to spring, Schneider said.
Two rising artists
Reilly and Bellino are both 20, and both juniors in college. Bellino attended Niskayuna High School for his freshman through junior year, and went to Interlochen Arts Academy for his senior year. He is now at Northwestern University in Chicago. Reilly graduated from LaSalle Institute in Troy and is at the Juilliard School in New York.
For the two soloists and Fennimore, the concert is a chance to shine. Bellino will perform Alexander Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto, written in 1950.
“I really like the piece, it’s very fun,” Bellino said. “It has everything. It’s lyrical, has fast technique things, it covers the range, it’s flashy.”
Arutiunian (sometimes spelled Arutunian) (1929-2012) was a much-awarded Armenian composer known for incorporating Armenia’s folk rhythms and melodies into his works to create a mix of colorful, high-energy music infused with a kind of pathos, according to New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Written for trumpeter Timofei Dokschitzer, who eventually introduced it to U.S. audiences, the work has become a staple in the trumpet repertory.
“I played it freshman year as part of a competition,” Bellino said. “I’ve been practicing it to play it well. It’s not insanely hard to play but the challenge is to make it sound professional.”
Reilly had a different kind of challenge. How many people know that Tchaikovsky wrote three piano concertos? The first, in B-flat, was written in 1874-75 and published in 1879; the second, in G, was written in 1879-80 and published in 1881; and the third, in E-flat, was written in 1893 and published in 1894.
“My teacher knew,” Reilly said. “Everyone plays the first, but the second, no one does. It was a cool opportunity to do it.”
But Reilly will not play the original score. He is doing Fennimore’s reorchestration.
Fennimore was a piano student in the 1960s studying with Rosina Lhevinne at the Juilliard School when he discovered the second piano concerto. She didn’t encourage him to learn the piece, which even in its day had caused controversy, Fennimore said.
Dedicating it to the great pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky had written a three-movement work that had a very long opening movement with several lengthy cadenzas and a typically quick third movement. But he had wanted to do something unique for the second slow movement. He put in substantial solos for the violinist and cellist to create a kind of concerto grosso, a form which has a few principal instruments backed by a larger ensemble. It was also very long.
“A pianist, Alexander Ziloti, who was a cousin of Rachmaninoff’s, shortened that movement,” Fennimore said, which Tchaikovsky, perhaps not unexpectedly, rejected. He never did revise the work.
As for the third concerto, which is in one movement, it’s believed this was supposed to have been the opening movement of a symphony, but Tchaikovsky changed his mind and put some other material with it to form the piano concerto.
A month after the second concerto was published, Rubinstein died and the work somehow disappeared from the repertory until George Balanchine discovered the piece’s second movement and used it in his “Diamonds” section for his ballet “Jewels,” Fennimore said. Gary Graffman also recorded numbers two and three, and recently, pianist Stephen Hough released his recording of all three concertos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including three versions of the famous second movement: the original, Ziloti’s and Hough’s (Hyperion).
But in the 1960s, Fennimore was intriqued by the work. So, with James Levine (the future music director of the Metropolitan Opera), who was also studying piano, they played it as a two-piano work. For about 20 years, Fennimore forgot about the concerto until in 1986 he returned for a second look and decided to reorchestrate it.
“There were some howlers in the first movement and three cadenzas. I took two out,” he said. “In the second movement, I kept what I liked and amplified the rest; and I kept the third. I also added brass and percussion. I meant the part to be razzle dazzle and show off the pianist.”
That same year, he showed his orchestration to Levine, who liked it enough to have it performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at its summer festival, Fennimore said. But the concerto in its original form still had few takers until more than 20 years later in 2010, when Hough performed it with Chicago. However, Schneider had long been thinking about the concerto.
“Joe talked to me about it maybe 15 to 20 years ago, but it wasn’t until Ryan appeared on the scene that we found a good fit,” he said.
“I’d been working on Tchaikovsky’s first, which is a great piece, but I dropped that to learn his second,” Reilly said. “I found the original in the library in a miniature score. The piano part is similar to the first. But Joe’s version is very much different than the original. I really like it.”
Fennimore said he tried to keep what he did as close to Tchaikovsky’s style as possible, and Reilly said he was successful.
“Some parts are very pianistic. Others are awkward for my hand — some crosshand work. And there are a lot of octaves,” he said.
Although he hasn’t heard Hough’s version, Reilly said, he did locate some discs so he could get a feel for the piece without stealing anyone’s ideas.
Both soloists are looking forward to the concert.
“I’m really excited. It will be a great concert,” Bellino said.
“It’s a great opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” he said.