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USC Symphony Orchestra presents “Famous Last Words” on December 4

Phillip Bush joins the orchestra on Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3

Both Béla Bartók and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky may very well have saved their very best music compositions for last. Completed in their final days, the two works on the USC Symphony Orchestra program include some of the most beautiful and poignant music either composer ever wrote.

The concert takes place on Monday, December 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Koger Center for the Arts.

Phillip Bush, associate professor of piano and chamber music at the University of South Carolina, performs Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in E Major. Bush is a pianist of uncommon versatility with a repertoire extending from the 16th century to the 21st. His active and unconventional career has taken him to many parts of the globe, and since his New York recital debut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1984, he has appeared as recitalist throughout North America, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. He made his Carnegie Hall concerto debut in 2001 with the London Sinfonietta to critical acclaim.

Bartók composed the Piano Concerto in 1945 during the final months of his life as a birthday present for his second wife Ditta. He had been ill for several years, and he and his wife had arrived almost penniless in New York four years earlier when they emigrated from Hungary. Bartok’s immigration from Europe to America, combined with his extended battle with leukemia, prevented him from composing a great deal in his early years in America.

Fortunately, the composer was commissioned to create his Concerto for Orchestra, which was very well received and decreased the composer's financial difficulties. This, combined with an easing of his medical condition, allowed for a change in the composer's general disposition. The changes in his emotional and financial state are considered by some to be the primary causes for the third piano concerto's light, airy, almost neoclassical tone of order, balance, clarity, economy and emotional restraint, especially in comparison to his earlier works. The second movement is full of bird calls that Bartók transcribed from those he heard in Asheville, NC, while trying to regain his health on an extended stay there in December 1943 through April 1944.

Bartók died on September 26, 1945, with the concerto unfinished. The task of completing orchestration of the final 17 measures, drawing from Bartók's notes, was eventually executed by the composer's friend, Tibor Serly.

Also on this concert program is Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74 “Pathétique,” composed in 1893. About his sixth symphony, Tchaikovsky declared that he had put his “whole soul into this work.” Tchaikovsky regarded his new symphony with great affection, "I think it will be successful; it is rare for me to write anything with such love and enthrallment. I can honestly say that never in my life have I been so pleased with myself, so proud, or felt so fortunate to have created something as good as this."

Tickets are on sale now

General public - $30; senior citizen/USC faculty and staff - $25; children under 18 and non-USC students with ID - $5; USC Students – free with student ID. Call 803-251-2222 or Koger Box Office, corner of Greene and Park Streets (M-F 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or online at kogercenterforthearts.com. Discounted tickets must be purchased at the box office.