Featured pianist programs a twist

PanArmenian News
Feb 28 2005
Anchorage Daily News (Alaska)

Featured pianist programs a twist

By MARK BAECHTEL, Anchorage Daily News

Saturday’s performance by the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra will
include some old friends for arts center patrons: Nikolai
Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Tsar’s Bride Overture” and Jean Sibelius’ rousing
Symphony No. 5. But you could be forgiven if you scratch your head a
bit when you see the name that occupies the middle spot in the
evening’s program — a piano concerto by Aram Khachaturian.

The piece was the choice of pianist Timothy Smith, the evening’s
featured guest and head of piano studies at the University of Alaska
Anchorage, who will be marking his 20th year in Alaska with the

“(Anchorage Symphony conductor) Randy Fleischer had asked me several
years ago to play the Liszt ‘Totentanz’ with the symphony, and after
I played, he said, ‘We’ll have to do this again,’?” Smith said. “And
that set me thinking of unique ideas for programs I’d like to play. I
thought the Khachaturian would make for an interesting twist.”

Words like “unique” and “twist” can be dissonant music to the ears of
innovation-averse audiences that like their classical music, well,
classical. However, bracketing the Khachaturian performance with
faves should entice the crowd into its seats, while the music itself
will make them glad they came.

“The music of the 20th century is just starting to be discovered as
orchestras are moving past (featuring mainly) the music of the 19th
century, looking for new showpieces,” Smith said. “They’ve done the
Beethovens and Brahmses and the Tchaikovskys and so forth, and now
they’re looking to do things they didn’t do just last year or the
year before.”

As far as Smith is concerned, Khachaturian, who was one of the
socialist-realist musicians fostered under the early Soviet
starmaking system, fits the bill.

“He uses a very distinctive harmonic palette,” Smith said. “It has
epic scales, and his connection with some of the folk instruments of
Armenia is pretty clear. There’s one instrument called the duduk, for
instance; it’s kind of a cross between a flute and a clarinet, and it
has a sound that’s very mournful, very expressive and emotive. And
the character of the duduk is captured in some of the more somber
lyrical passages Khachaturian wrote for piano in the concerto.

“I think this quality will make the concerto very memorable, even to
someone who had no familiarity with his music.”

Smith said the concerto is presenting a challenge for him as a

“It can be intimidating,” he said. “In the traditional sense, it
presents some of the same technical obstacles presented by concerti
from the previous period. And it takes some stamina and endurance to
match up and stand with the orchestra; the piano is called on to
produce quite a bit of sound.”

Smith says the piece is not all sturm und drang, however. The more
“bombastic and triumphal” passages are balanced, he says, by passages
that are slower and more emotive.

All in all, he says, “It’s certainly not an understated piece, and it
translates into quite a spectacle.”

Arts editor Mark Baechtel can be reached at 257-4323 or
[email protected].

THE ANCHORAGE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb.
26, in Atwood Concert Hall. Tickets: $19-$40, available at CarrsTix.

GRAPHIC: ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News; Timothy Smith teaches
piano to student Joy Kil, 14. Smith will perform a 20th-century piano
concerto by Aram Khachaturian that includes epic scales, folk
influences and both bombastic and emotive passages.