Twenty-four-year-old pianist Beatrice Rana was born in Italy, the daughter of two professional pianists. She entered competition at age nine and medaled at the 2013 Van Cliburn competition at age 21, playing Prokofiev. After coming from Montreal, where she is playing Brahms with the National Art Center Orchestra, she returns to Prokofiev as the soloist for this weekend’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra performance of the Russian composer’s Piano Concerto No. 3, in a program that will also include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 (“The Hen”).
At 30 minutes, Prokofiev’s concerto No. 3 is comparatively short, but intense. The piano makes a high-energy entrance in the first movement and moves on to cover musical ground with virtuosity.
The first time Rana played Prokofiev, it was his Piano Concerto No. 2. She was 18 or 19. “And I remember I saw it as a real challenge,” she says. “Because Prokofiev’s Second is so huge. Those cadenzas are so nerve-wracking for every pianist. And since then, I’ve constantly played Prokofiev. He’s one of those composers you never get tired of. It’s Russian music, but it’s not as emotionally charged as Rachmaninoff or even some Tchaikovsky. With Prokofiev, there is this incredible combination of drama and intellect”—a combination that keeps her riveted.
“With No. 3,” she says. “We’re talking about a composer who is already established in his style.” He was 30 years old when the concerto debuted in 1921, and his flirtations with iconoclasm, particularly in his embrace of dissonance, sparked controversy. “[He was] really refusing the past in a certain way,” says Rana. “But I always like these contradictions. On one hand, a modern approach. On the other side, a strong Romantic love for huge, beautiful melodies that come across in these three movements.”
These melodies weave their gorgeous shapes through the clarinet solo that opens the first movement with a wistful searching that turns to joy; the static, meditative piano section of the second movement; and the third movement, which contains what Rana considers to be “one of the most beautiful melodies [Prokofiev] has ever written.”
“The third concerto is considered to be the masterpiece,” Rana says. “It’s a piece where every aspect is combined with the others so well. It’s so intelligent. The orchestration is so witty and clever. With the second concerto that I played so much, I couldn’t say the same. Prokofiev was much younger.”
It is a multi-textured piece, whose second movement itself takes the form of a theme with variations, admired for its musical wit. “If I had to use one adjective, it’s playful,” Rana says. “Playful in the sense that there is so much interaction between the soloist and the orchestra. It’s a pity to describe it as a concerto between piano and orchestra, because every instrument has so many interactions. It’s sort of like playing chess. There are so many moves in the orchestra. Even in the darkest movements, there is so much cleverness.”
“Concertos like that require rehearsal and great complicity with the orchestra,” she continues. This will, however, be Rana’s first time playing with the DSO and with English-born guest conductor Nicholas McGegan, who has directed the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale for 32 years, was an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire “for services to music overseas” in 2010, and has been a presence at Harvard and Yale. “This is also a source of inspiration,” Rana says.