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Published: Thursday, 10/22/2009

Conductor to play piano he helped Toledo symphony select

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Noted conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn sits at the Steinway before rehearsal at the Peristlye stage at the Toledo Museum of Art. Noted conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn sits at the Steinway before rehearsal at the Peristlye stage at the Toledo Museum of Art.
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On Tuesday, a very special rendezvous occurred between pianist and conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn and the Toledo Symphony's Orser Steinway D Concert Grand.

In town to perform on the piano he helped select for the symphony - as well as to conduct - Solzhenitsyn had not laid eyes or ears on the instrument since the summer of 2008.

Friday and Saturday, he will put it through its paces on the Peristyle stage with an early Mozart piano concerto, No. 11 in F Major, K. 413. Also on that Classics II program is the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 in E Minor. Both concerts begin at 8 p.m.

Recalling that first meeting, in New York City's Steinway showroom, where dozens of gleaming instruments awaited the test of touch and hearing, Solzhenitsyn said, "I was pleased to be asked to help, and to learn that the symphony was going to such lengths to secure a new piano."

Fine pianos are hand-built, noted the Philadelphia musician, who is music director of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and on the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music.

"There is quite a variation from one piano to another; one may be more bright, another more intimate. The action (key and hammer movement inside) may be lighter or heavier," he explained.

Plus, noted Solzhenitsyn, who was invited by TSO music director Stefan Sanderling and president Bob Bell to assist in this critical decision, "There are various other characteristics that are hard to verbalize."

Because the pianist, a son of the late Russian writer and social critic Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, has become a favorite guest of the symphony - he last performed here during the 2007-2008 season - he had solid background to guide his decision-making.

"One has to keep in mind what the goal is and where the piano is going," he explained of some of the key criteria he used. "I knew it was going into a beautiful but quite large hall."

Although the piano does travel to other area stages as needed, its home is on the stage of the historic Greek-influenced Peristyle.

"The first thing I was looking for was to have a bigger piano than one that was already here, bigger in volume and character of sound," Solzhenitsyn said.

"Some pianos are more chamber instruments. In this case we're looking for a concerto piano that can project over the orchestra."

Endowed by longtime TSO supporter and board member Jonathan Orser, the piano has become well-known and much-loved by musicians and audiences alike since its debut a year ago.

Like any fine instrument, the Orser Steinway sounds different depending on who is playing it and what style music is being performed, as well as where it is situated.

In the Peristyle, the piano will resonate differently during rehearsals and performances, noted Solzhenitsyn. "The sound changes quite a bit from rehearsal to performance. With people in the hall, it's quite a bit drier. It's a modest hall, and the sound is very clean," he said, adding, "That same point could be made about very many halls."

This weekend's performances bring a certain artistic closure to Solzhenitsyn's involvement with the Orser Steinway. "I'm happy to have been part of that process," he said.

Ignat Solzhenitsyn and the Toledo Symphony will perform in the Classics series at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle. Tickets are $20-$50 at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com. Student rush tickets at $5 are available one hour before each concert; ID is required.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com.



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