A father and son eye challenging concertos
The concertos of Sergei Rachmaninov are punishing on any pianist who plays them, so they are rarely performed more than one at a time. Next month, the British father-and-son team of pianist Howard Shelley and conductor Alexander Shelley will push their limits with a performance of all four piano concertos over three days in Hobart. After performing concertos No.1 and No.2, Howard will take a one-day break before performing concertos No.3 and No.4.
Howard says the exertion from performing the concertos are so intense that he sometimes applies superglue to his fingertips to keep the skin from tearing off.
“It has been calculated that the soloist in a Rachmaninov concerto expends energy equivalent to shifting two tonnes of coal, so yes, you have to prepare almost like a sportsman,” he says. “Musicians have to be very careful to avoid repetitive strain injuries, given the intensity with which they have to work with their arms and shoulders. Having said all that, I generally feel so uplifted and exhilarated at the end of a concert, providing all has gone well, that I am not aware of the physical tiredness.”
His performance with the TSO will be conducted by Alexander, who first gained attention when he won the Leeds Conductors Competition in 2005. Alexander went on to become chief conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra and is music director of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. He is also principal associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.
Howard says Alexander grew up listening to him practising in the studio at home, so was very familiar with Howard’s interpretations and style.
“Of course he has his own musical personality, and this feeds into the mix, but generally our feelings about music are very similar and working together is easy.
“Being family makes it more relaxed and there are none of the potential ego issues between soloist and conductor.”
Howard says Rachmaninov’s music still entrances him after all these years of playing it. “As well as the gorgeous, rich romantic palette he uses, with its passion and power, there is such humanity in the writing, so many moods, so many surging melodies and harmonic delights. What is there not to like about music so full of emotion and so immediate in its effects?”