Two weekend concerts with pianist Robert Edward Thies

Musician will perform with SLO symphony and solo at Cass Winery

Special to the TribuneJanuary 30, 2014 

Local classical music lovers have a pair of reasons to be excited right now. Master pianist Robert Edward Thies returns to San Luis Obispo this weekend to give two concerts. On Saturday evening he’ll be featured with the Symphony at Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center, playing Rachmaninoff’s epic Third Piano Concerto. And on Sunday afternoon he will give a solo recital at Cass Winery, between Paso Robles and Creston.

Those who attended Thies’ SLO performance of the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto in 2011 will remember what a lyrical, completely convincing treatment it was. Thies understands this composer’s overall conception of music well, and handled its pianistic details brilliantly. As I stated in my review at the time, Thies “seemed more interested in humbly serving the music’s structure rather than imposing his own will on it.” But what about the challenges of the even more demanding Third Concerto?

Thies, speaking from his Los Angeles home, sounded excited about playing this 40-minute work — and deeply committed to its mystery.

“It’s one of the most challenging pieces in the whole repertory, devilishly difficult to play, and preparing it has been a huge task,” he said. “But I’m not playing it to show off or prove anything — I’m playing it because it’s a profound piece of music.

“Rachmaninoff’s architecture and scope makes it bigger than the Second Concerto, and there are lyrical parts in all three movements. The second movement is simply astonishing. There’s nothing slow about it. The scherzo just takes away any possibility of sentimentality, with those chords, one after another.”

I asked Thies if he was looking forward to working again with Michael Nowak and the San Luis Obispo Symphony.

“Well, the Concerto has a built-in collaborative aspect, and Michael is a great collaborator,” he said. “Virtuosity for its own sake is not the goal for either of us — we want to get completely into the music.

“Besides, my wife and I visit San Luis Obispo three or four times a year anyway, we love the place that much. It’s such a relief from the whole L.A. vibe, and working with Michael and the orchestra is a gift.”

Thies and I had both read Mark Vanhoenacker’s recent requiem for classical music in Slate.com, which reported, among other things, the genre’s current 2.8 percent share of the U.S. recording market. I asked him how he thought the classical audience can grow.

“The music isn’t as well-integrated into the culture in this country as it is in Europe. One popular TV station in Hungary plays only jazz and classical videos.

“Educational outreach is the way to grow the U.S. audience, but you have to get both the children and their parents involved. I play concerts for fifth-graders in L.A., so families can get exposed to this art form as a living, breathing thing to treasure, not as something archaic that people today can’t relate to.

We all have the responsibility to share what we know and love with an audience. Beethoven and Chopin are not overplayed.”

IF YOU GO

A Weekend eEcape — Classics 3
8 p.m. Saturday
Cohan Center, Cal Poly
$20 to $75
756-4849 or www.pacslo.org

Solo piano recital
4 p.m. Sunday
7350 Linne Road, Paso Robles
$40
543-3533 or www.slo symphony.com

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