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International competition winner joins UofSC Symphony Orchestra

The Dec. 3 program: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5

Many believe the most soulful of all Beethoven’s music is found in his piano concertos. The beauty and elegance in them confirms Beethoven’s status as the composer who quickened the pace of change in classical music by ushering in the Romantic era that followed.

For Beethoven the key C minor bore special significance – it related to the late 18th-century literary and musical movement known as Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress). He used the same key of C minor for his Pathetique Piano Sonata and his Fifth Symphony. The first movement of the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor is full of stormy, turbulent passages that give way in the second movement to one of the composer’s most tender, lyrical passages.

Beethoven was the soloist on the night of his premiere in spring 1803, performing mostly from memory because he’d run out of time to transcribe the piano part. While Beethoven explores the gamut of emotion from tragedy to comedy, underlying the work is his determination to show off the piano as every bit as powerful and as expressive as the entire orchestra around it.

The University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra concert, led by Scott Weiss, takes place on Tuesday, December 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Koger Center for the Arts (1051 Greene St). Valet parking is available. Preceding the concert is a pre-concert talk at 6:45 p.m. in the Koger lobby.

Performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto on this concert is the Irish pianist John O'Conor, "A pianist of unbounding sensitivity," according to his review in Gramophone. He was the 1st Prize winner at the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna in 1973, and this opened the door to a career that has brought him all around the world. The London Sunday Times wrote, “Impeccable technique and musicality ... it would be hard to imagine better performances." And "This artist has the kind of flawless touch that makes an audience gasp" from the Washington Post.

For his services to music, O’Conor has been decorated “Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by the French Government, awarded the “Ehrenkreuz fur Wissenschaft und Kunst” by the Austrian Government, and the “Order of the Rising Sun” by the Emperor of Japan, to name a few.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor is also on the evening’s concert. Because of his duties as director of the Vienna Opera, Gustav Mahler did most of his composing in the summer months. He began his Fifth Symphony in 1901 at his summer place on the edge of Lake Wörth in Maiernigg, where he composed in a studio in the forest far removed from the main house. He continued to work on the score throughout the year, thinking he was finished in the fall of 1903. Still dissatisfied, he made further revisions after a run-through with the Vienna Philharmonic and again after the premiere that he conducted in Cologne in October, 1904. He continued to revise the Symphony until his death.

Success eluded Mahler at the Cologne premiere. After the first rehearsal of the Scherzo on October 16, 1904, Mahler wrote to his wife Alma:

“The Scherzo is the very devil of a movement. I see it is in for a peck of troubles! Conductors for the next fifty years will take it too fast and make nonsense of it, and the public—Oh, heavens, what are they to make of this chaos, of which new worlds are forever being begotten, only to crumble in ruin the next moment? What are they to say to this primeval music, this foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound, to these dancing stars, to these breathtaking iridescent and flashing breakers? . . . Oh that I might give my Symphony its first performance fifty years after my death!”

His words were right on the mark: it was approximately 50 years after the premiere that his music began to receive its due on an international scale.

Tickets now on sale

UofSC Students - free with student ID (must be picked up from the Koger before 5:00 p.m. on the day of the performance). General public - $30; senior citizen/USC faculty and staff - $25; children under 18 and non-USC students with ID - $5. 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

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