Join Natchez Festival of Music for tribute to Rachmaninoff

Published 12:21 am Monday, May 8, 2017

Every time I hear it I go to pieces…it shakes me, it quakes me, it makes me feel goosepimply all over. …”Marilyn Monroe’s hyperbolic description, from an equally hyperbolic movie, “The Seven Year Itch,” is actually a fairly accurate account of why Rachmaninoff’s music is still so popular.

Though Rachmaninoff, who lived until about midway through the 20th century, was often ostracized by some of the more “progressive” Russian composers of his era, his music lives on as a living testament to a sensitive, elegant, and passionate human soul. Rachmaninoff’s style, and in a broader sense, Eastern European romantic music in general, is something by which every pianist becomes entranced at some point.

It is music that hits you right in the heart. It’s seductive, it’s sweeping, it’s virtuosic, it’s romantic; and much of it was written under great hardships of war or political exile (Rachmaninoff himself became an American citizen after rejecting the Bolshevik uprising of 1917.) Over my eight years in residence at the Natchez Festival of Music, I have had the opportunity to explore and present many different styles including Chopin and Liszt, perhaps the Natchez premiere of Beethoven’s notoriously difficult “Hammerklavier” Sonata, American music including Mississippi composers and much more. But studying this music again is, for me, returning to a first love; rediscovering the music which inspired me to become a pianist in the first place. If names like Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky or Khachaturian look unfamiliar to those who don’t frequent classical events, I can almost guarantee that the music will be recognizable to many. Besides the fact that Eastern European romanticism laid the groundwork for most modern popular music, a number of works on this program, such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite or Khachaturian’s Adagio from Spartacus, are still a ubiquitous part of our popular culture. The concert is not without a personal touch, as it will feature my own fantasy on a popular tune from Kyrgyzstan, a former soviet country, now celebrating it’s 26th year of independence. It is a land I have had a particular connection with over the past couple of years, being a co-founder and vice president of Kyrgyz American Foundation, which builds bridges between our two countries through cultural, intellectual and social exchange. Whether you come for the Romance, Revolution or Rachmaninoff himself, I invite you to share all three with me at 7 p.m. this Thursday.

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Revolution, Romanticism and Rachmaninoff will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 11, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 305 S. Commerce St. Admission is $20 ($10 for Student K-12, Adult with K-12 student, College and Active Military with current ID).

Other events this week include Rossini, Puccini and Martinis at Waverly Plantation Tuesday, May 9, Rockin’ On the River featuring Brint Anderson at Bowie’s on Wednesday, May 10, That Sensational Sondheim Friday, May 12 at The Towers and From Mississippi to Motown Saturday, May 13. For more information on our entire season, please visit

Jonathan Levin is a pianist and performer for the Natchez Festival of Music.