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Savannah Music Festival: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to perform all Rachmaninov program with pianist Stephen Hough

  • Pianist Stephen Hough (Photo by Andrew Crowley)

Savannah Music Festival: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to perform all Rachmaninov program with pianist Stephen Hough

04 Apr 2017

An all-Rachmaninov program will be presented April 8 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. This will be the ASO’s 12th consecutive performance at the Savannah Music Festival.

Under the direction of maestro Robert Spano, the ASO will be joined by British pianist Stephen Hough. A free pre-concert talk will be presented by Ken Meltzer, ASO’s program annotater and “insider.”

The program will showcase Rachmaninov’s range of melody and harmony from the “Symphonic Dances” to “Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor,” a lively and playful work that stands apart from the rest. The performance also will include “Vocalise.”

Hough performed at the Savannah Music Festival in 2015.

“I was completely charmed by Savannah,” he says. “It’s a city of great beauty with a great festival, so I’m delighted to be back again. I’ve played many times over the decades with the wonderful Atlanta Symphony, and Robert Spano is not just a brilliant conductor but a friend.”

Hough describes Rachmaninov as an evergreen.

“It seems that all over the world, people from every background, those with music degrees or those attending their first classical concert, are all haunted and thrilled by his intense romanticism,” Hough says. “But he’s not just about writing good tunes.

“His command of the orchestra and his writing for the piano — he was one of the greatest pianists who ever lived — is consummate,” he says. “These three works show him at the height of his powers.”

Hough began playing piano at a young age.

“I started the piano when I was about 5 years old because of a piano in an aunt’s house,” he says. “We had no classical music of any kind at home. I wanted to be a musician from my first piano lesson.”

A true polymath, Hough is not just a concert pianist, but also a writer and composer. In 2001, he was given a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the first classical performing artist to be so honored. In 2008, Northwestern University awarded him the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano.

Hough won the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist Award in 2010 and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 2014.

A catalogue of more than 50 albums has garnered such international prizes as the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, Diapason d’Or, Monde de la Musique and several Grammy nominations.

For some fans, Hough’s favorite award may come as a surprise.

“Perhaps the International Poetry Competition because I entered on a whim, forgot about it, then months later got an email telling me I’d won,” he says.

As a writer, Hough contributes articles to the Guardian, the Times, the Tablet, Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine. In London, he is a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music and holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at the Royal Northern College in Manchester. He is also a member of the faculty at the Juilliard School in New York City.

Hough is as passionate about writing as he is about music.

“I hope there’s no subject where I wouldn’t go if I felt the desire,” he says. “My first novel is about a man in a state of desperation and depression — a priest who has lost his faith and his morals — and I try to create the inside of his mind rather than tell a story as such.

“The story hovers around him, outside him,” Hough says. “We and he glimpse it in a glass darkly.”

In composing a piece of music, Hough finds inspiration all around him.

“It can be anything, but usually musical notes and sounds rather than a story,” he says. “An abstract concept can sometimes be a source of inspiration, too.”

As a performer, Hough has had many memorable experiences.

“Every concert is memorable in some way,” he says. “Nowhere is there a less important night, and being able to be ‘on’ every single time is ultimately what gives someone a career which lasts.”

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Stephen Hough

When: 8 p.m. April 8

Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.

Cost: $40-$70

Info:, 912-525-5050

What else: A free pre-concert talk with Ken Meltzer starts at 7 p.m.