Michael Lewin's Blog: "Bench Notes"

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What is your favorite Piano Concerto?

The great Artur Rubinstein, when asked what his favorite piece was, always answered “whatever I am playing at the moment.” This is of course, the perfect answer, at least for solo repertoire. The amount of piano music is vast, and there are endless favorite choices. One must be absolutely committed to the music one is performing at that moment- it would feel like a betrayal otherwise.

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And the winner is... Rhapsody in Blue

Ever since I started playing with orchestras in my teens, I’ve written the date/orchestra/conductor/venue for each performance on the back page of my music. I love seeing my performance history for each concerto, and revisiting the memories of each prior performance.

It is very satisfying to see the performances add up for a particular concerto. But I was rather shocked a few years ago to count and realize that I had played Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue 50 times, more than any other piece.

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My relationship with the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto

Growing up, I was something of a snob about Rachmaninoff. All those beautiful melodies- it didn’t seem sufficiently serious. I preferred to play music which I considered better than it could ever be performed, to paraphrase Schnabel. When I arrived at Juilliard, I immediately learned both Brahms Concertos, not Rachmaninoff, like many of my peers. When conductors asked me to play the Rachmaninoff 2nd, I was somehow always able to convince them to do something else, like the Tchaikovsky. I successfully managed to avoid learning what is perhaps the world’s most popular and beloved Piano Concerto.

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