For RSO, let the celebration begin

The Reading Symphony Orchestra will begin its much-anticipated 100th anniversary season with a concert featuring pianist Fabio Bidini on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Sovereign Performing Arts Center.

RSO music director Andrew Constantine said in a recent interview that Bidini is an outstanding pianist with whom he has been wanting to work for years. Bidini will play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s ever-popular Piano Concerto No. 2 during Saturday’s concert; he recently performed Rachmaninoff’s third Piano Concerto with Constantine in a concert by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic in Indiana, where Constantine is also music director.

In choosing the program for the first concert of this historic season, Constantine said, “We wanted to look at the early years of the RSO, and the overall theme (for the season) is of repertoire across the seasons.”

The second concert of the RSO’s first season, on Dec. 28, 1913, opened with the Overture to Carl Maria von Weber’s opera “Oberon” and also included Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. Both pieces will be played on Saturday.

Other pieces that were popular in those early days were Danish composer Niels Gade’s “Hamlet” Overture and Felix Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony No. 3; the first will open the March 23 concert and the latter will conclude the April 20 concert.

Constantine said the RSO’s “Curtis connection” will be celebrated in the Nov. 17 concert. Over the years, many RSO musicians have studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, and soloists from the legendary school have appeared with the symphony as well.

On Nov. 17, the “School for Scandal” Overture, inspired by the comedy by 18th century British playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, will begin the concert. Its composer, Samuel Barber, was a graduate of the Curtis Institute with a triple major in voice, piano and composition.

Another Curtis graduate, oboist Liang Wang, will make his second appearance with the RSO at the same concert, playing Mozart’s Oboe Concerto.

RSO concertmaster Christopher Collins Lee will be the soloist in the Feb. 23 concert, performing Karl Goldmark’s Violin Concerto. Pianist William Wolfram, who has performed as a soloist with the RSO in years past, will play Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto for the March 23 concert.

As part of the 100th anniversary season, Constantine wanted to bring a special “superstar” guest artist, and so violinist Midori will perform at the April 20 concert. She will also be spending the week prior to the concert in Reading, working with area violin students.

“We have to pick up where formal education is losing ground,” Constantine said of Midori’s master classes.

He noted that because of the current economic climate, music programs in the public schools are being cut. The RSO has traditionally performed concerts for students and has for more than 20 years put a great emphasis on education with its youth orchestras.

The subscription concert season will end with a performance of Beethoven’s beloved Symphony No. 9, with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society as guests, on May 11.

“The repertoire choices are conservative,” Constantine said, “but they reflect the history of the orchestra.”

In addition to the subscription concerts, the RSO will collaborate with the Reading Choral Society for holiday concerts in Pottstown (Dec. 8) and West Reading (Dec. 9); and with Berks Ballet Theatre for the annual “Nutcracker” on Dec. 14 and 15.

The New Year’s Eve concert with Jeans ‘n’ Classics will be back, and the annual Kinderkonzert will be performed on May 5. The final event of the season will be “A Musical Showcase,” a pops concert featuring show choirs from Berks County high schools, on May 18.

This Saturday’s concert, which departs from tradition by ending with the concerto, will be Bidini’s first appearance with the RSO. A child prodigy in his native Italy, he was one of the youngest students to graduate from the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome.

In addition to winning a number of piano competitions in Europe, Bidini won the Busoni and Van Cliburn competitions, opening the doors for an international concert career.

He has performed with orchestras and in recital in major concert halls throughout the world, as well as playing with many chamber ensembles. He has recorded 13 CDs, by himself and with other artists. He is on the faculty of the renowned Hochschule fur Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin.

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