The Eugene Symphony kicks off its 49th season tonight performing a program that opens with Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz — think the lilting, spacey soundtrack to “2001: A Space Odyssey” — and wraps up with pianist Markus Groh playing Brahms’ second piano concerto.
We talked with conductor Danail Rachev about this evening’s performance and about the entire season, which offers a guest slot by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman, who will perform Sept. 28; a screening of the movie “The Wizard of Oz” with the orchestra playing the score; and surprisingly few actual symphonies.
First off, how’s your family?
Everybody is great, thank you. The kids (his daughters, Kalina and Neviana) are growing up.
How old are they now?
They will be very soon four and one. In just two weeks. They were born four days apart.
What did you do this summer?
You know, I was at home a bit in Philadelphia. The usual kind of summer. But still some work. It was a great summer. How was yours?
Great. But busy.
It is so great to be here for the summer. I was here for about 10 days or so. I enjoyed Oregon.
Where did you get to in Oregon?
We traveled to Bend. And we traveled north, what’s the name of the big river that goes to Portland? I never knew how beautiful the drive along that is. I have been to the coast. It’s beautiful.
I see you are doing the Blue Danube waltz. Can you conduct that without seeing spaceships?
Actually, you know, for me the connection is not with the movie by Kubrick but with the New Year’s concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic. I always think of the Vienna Philharmonic when I do this piece. Each year they do this concert on the first. They air it everywhere in the world.
When I was seven or eight years old, I would be at my grandfather’s house for the first of January. Every year the tradition of that concert is that the last piece they play before the encore is the Blue Danube. Everyone knows that’s how the program finishes.
Tell me about the Brahms piano concerto. That’s quite a weighty piece.
Doing any piece of Brahms is a fantastic experience. He was one of the most important composers to me. All the pieces that he wrote are incredibly meaningful and deep. There is no difference between the symphonies and concertos in that matter — they are all significant, great pieces.
The two piano concertos are among the most important concertos ever written. They were written at a different times.
The second piano concerto is one of the few piano concertos in four movements. It’s a big piece, challenging for the players to play but also technically challenging for the players to mentally go through the whole piece.
When I selected it, it was because I think you can hear in it other pieces of Brahms’ Hungarian folk music, Roma music. The Roma people’s music is one of the most amazing traditions in any music in Europe. It’s very soulful, exciting kind of music. Of course, also very virtuoso. There is a lot of lyricism. A lot of fire. Very light. It’s not just big and dramatic. Big and dramatic is there, of course.
What’s it like to work with a superstar violin soloist like Itzhak Perlman?
I’ve worked with all the great players. What is the most interesting thing to me is how those players influence, with their playing, the orchestra and the whole performance. Itzhak Perlman is one of the most interesting soloists in that aspect. I think his violin playing is so, how do you say it, incredibly violinistic. He has the singing-like sound. When he came here to play with us, that sound sort of came to the orchestra and it improved our playing. That is something very interesting and it doesn’t happen all the time. It happens only with incredible players.
Other than that, he is like anybody else. It is the easiest thing to work with him. We talk about the piece a little bit, but most of the communication takes place in on stage when we rehearse, and of course in performance.
Tell us a bit about the whole season. How did you craft it?
Every year we try to make a season that can show a lot of the range of classical music, including new music, classical music, romantic music, French style, all the different styles. And try to combine this with artists that we invite. And make one organic and interesting flow.
And also so that each program within itself has meaning.
This is a very successful and interesting season on paper. I was talking to you about the opening program and all the connections. The orchestra got that right away.
Of course you have the soloist, Michael Groh. He’s a friend of mine. He is a very big Brahms player.
If you look at each program there is always some interesting connection with the soloist.
It seems like there are fewer symphonies on this year’s program. There are only five nights (out of 10 performances) with anything titled “symphony”.
I never thought of that . Thank you for telling me. The way we put the program together, we try to think of something that has meaning and connection between the music. Maybe next time you will see everything with the word “symphony” – all three pieces in the program!
Blue Danube & Brahms
Danail Rachev, conductor | Markus Groh, piano
J. STRAUSS, JR.: On the Beautiful Blue Danube
KODALY: Dances of Galánta
BRAHMS: Hungarian Dances Nos. 3 and 6
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2
8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18
Hult Center for the Performing Arts