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Be wowed, but don't miss subtle moments at WSO's season opener

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André LaPlante

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André LaPlante

Reading the promotional material for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's upcoming season opener -- Canadian pianist André Laplante performing Rachmaninoff's famous Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor -- they mention phrases like "blockbuster piano concerto" and "the Everest of piano concertos."

Not to dispute this, but if you attend simply for the wow factor, you'll miss some subtler, richer musical experiences.

"The history of Rachmaninoff as a composer is pretty bumpy," said Laplante over the phone from his Montreal home. "His first piano concerto was badly received. It discouraged him. It took a long time to get back to composing. His third concerto he wrote for himself for an American tour. He decided to let loose his creativity... and compose a concerto that demonstrates everything musically and pianistically you can do on the piano.

"It's effective. It rallies all the main qualities he has -- a tightness of elements, reminiscent moments and tremendous virtuosities. The texture is the richest of all his concertos."

The work wasn't actually Laplante's first choice for this concert. "I wanted to do two Liszt concertos that I have done many times," he says. Laplante is known for his interpretation of Liszt and has a new recording of the Hungarian composer's works being released soon. "But the WSO wanted something big and festive. They suggested the Rachmaninoff... I haven't played it for many years -- it's like coming back to an old friend."

The work became widely popular after it was featured in the 1996 movie Shine, the story of Australian pianist David Helfgott. Its technical demands and high drama are well documented.

"It's certainly a piece that teaches you. You have to hear what you want to do; otherwise you are just stuck with billions of notes. You have to figure out a physical way to do it -- and that is to be very free from the keys. You have to move along with the line and be free with the line. If you learn it musically you can still play it without becoming too tired.... The energy spent is positive energy."

At 63, Laplante is still going strong, with a steady performing/touring schedule, teaching positions throughout the school season and master classes in Vermont and Quebec in the summer.

"It's fun to keep in contact with the younger generation. I try to teach them that not everything is about sensation -- being fast and loud. I try to change their aspect of thinking and want them to have fun, not be afraid of what they have to express, afraid to let go."

As for the wow factor, which many audiences seek, Laplante takes a relaxed stance. "I am still crazy enough to believe that there is a good part of the public that is sensitized to expression," he says. "For people who catch the difference, it's worth it."

The other work on the program is Gustav Holst's popular and grand The Planets.

gwenda.nemerofsky@shaw.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2013 C14

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Updated on Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 7:40 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video, changes headline

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