This weekend will be a celebration of the piano for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, in settings ranging from the big stage of the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono to the intimate Bangor Arts Exchange in downtown Bangor.
It’ll also be a chance for BSO fans to hear an array of both new and older works by conductor Lucas Richman, as played by pianist Vijay Venkatesh, the featured soloist for Sunday’s main stage concert at the Collins Center, set for 3 p.m.
The night before, Venkatesh will perform selections from Richman’s new album, “Variations,” at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Bangor Arts Exchange. “Variations” was released this fall and features Venkatesh performing six solo piano compositions written by Richman over the course of three decades.
Richman, a renowned and seasoned conductor and composer, chose Venkatesh to record his works because he was wowed by a YouTube video of the pianist’s performance of Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor — which Venkatesh, 31, will perform on Sunday at the Collins Center.
“He just brings a beauty and an honesty to his playing. He’s a very organic performer. It’s not about the flash. It’s about bringing out the beauty and drama and storytelling of the music,” Richman said.
The pair recorded the album last summer at Zipper Hall at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, engineered by Venkatesh’s mentor, acclaimed pianist Fabio Bidini. Venkatesh said that he jumped at the chance to record the album because of the joyful, yet sensitive, nature of Richman’s work.
“As difficult as some of these pieces are to play, they are incredibly pleasing to listen to,” Venkatesh said. “I can see why audiences gravitate toward him. Each ‘variation’ really creates its own little atmospheric world.”
Since then, their musical relationship has deepened, and it was only natural that Venkatesh come to Bangor to perform with the BSO — and to play Richman’s works for the Bangor audience who knows him well. The Clara Schumann piano concerto has become something of a calling card for Venkatesh, who began performing it in 2019.
In 1834, Schumann was just 14 when she composed the piece, and was 15 when she first performed it in public — when she was known as Clara Wieck, some six years before she married Robert Schumann, a fellow pianist and Romantic composer. Venkatesh said the youthful exuberance of the piece is palpable.
“She was one of the greatest pianists of the 19th century and a true trailblazer,” he said. “With this piece, she wanted to show off the full range of her talent. It’s very mature, and yet emotionally very imaginative.”
Richman has always championed female composers from any era, and Sunday’s concert will also feature a performance of Allegro Feroce by French-Irish composer Augusta Holmes, a little known late-19th century composer whose works were rediscovered in recent years. Allegro Feroce was not performed in public until 2018, and the BSO’s performance will be its first-ever in the U.S.
The concert will be rounded out by Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, the emotional final symphony the Russian wrote before his death in 1893. For more information and for tickets to both concerts, visit bangorsymphony.org.