The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra, alongside chief-conductor Gabriel Feltz and pianists Petr Limonov, Olga Sheps, and Ana Fedorova delivered a spectacular Rachmaninoff Marathon at Kolarac Hall on Friday evening. Over a thousand people greeted the masterful artists and three hours of exquisite music were awarded with standing ovations of the audience, worshiping not just one of the most intense events of the Philharmonic season but also a standout on the entire global concert scene this year.
It was a true fireworks-display of virtuosity, pushing the boundaries of the Belgrade Philharmonic’s capabilities in one of the most sought-after events this season. There was immense anticipation for the feat of performing the first three piano concertos of the renowned composer in a single evening, leading to tickets selling out long before the event, including standing tickets. The captivated audience experienced not just Sergei Rachmaninoff’s developmental journey but also the authentic interpretations of the three pianists, each with a unique stylistic expression.
The excitement of the audience grew with each movement. The evening culminated with the thunderous ovation from a full-house Kolarac Hall, and the moment all three pianists returned to the stage to thank the audience at the end, the atmosphere turned euphoric. Kolarac Backstage was as crowded as the concert hall, filled with warm congratulations, hugs, selfies, and autographs shared among the new generation of young pianists and their future colleagues.
Petr Limonov kicked off the Rachmaninoff Marathon with an exceptionally original interpretation of the Concerto No.1, considering it a sublimation of Rachmaninoff’s youthful brilliance completed in the composer’s mature career phase. He then passed the baton to the brilliant Olga Sheps, bringing forth her distinctive and unexpected interpretation of the opulent Second Concerto. The triumphant finale featured the renowned Rach 3, a piece that represents the throne of piano literature, magnificently and powerfully performed by Ana Fedorova.
However, this event wasn’t solely dedicated to the 150th birthday anniversary of Sergei Rachmaninoff; it paralleled the most elite global events held this year worldwide. The vision of the mastermind behind the marathon idea, chief-conductor of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra Gabriel Feltz, was that all three piano concertos be performed by female pianists, thus raising very important issue about gender politics and prejudices related to Rachmaninoff’s genre, which is often considered the domain of men performing it more successfully and powerfully.
Rachmaninoff, an exceptional pianist himself, had reached the pinnacle of his pianistic abilities, partly due to his physical predispositions (he could span up to 12 keys with one hand!). Whether women could equally play Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos with the same strength and vigor was demonstrated at the Belgrade Philharmonic’s marathon.
On this note, Petr Limonov offered an interesting perspective due to last-minute changes, performing instead of the previously scheduled Eva Gevorgyan. He shared a thought-provoking insight on the masculine and feminine approaches to playing.
While studying conducting and piano at the London Royal Academy, my professor made an enlightening comment, analyzing how I interpreted music. He advised me to pay more attention to exploring and emphasizing my feminine side because the masculine isn’t good enough. I believe this is a fantastic philosophy that concerns the whole and is based on the yin-yang Eastern philosophy, where every being should strive for harmony through elements that we already carry within, said Limonov.
Olga Sheps believes that in the past, only men dominated the concert scene because women were expected to stay at home with children. However, times have changed; music is for everyone and speaks to all, making it now hard to determine whether there are feminine or masculine aspects to performance; the most important thing is to open our soul to the music, she said.
Fortunately, these prejudices are less and less, because we have so many fantastic female artists taking on physically and mentally challenging tasks and pushing the boundaries of interpretation. For example, Yuja Wang performs all of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos in a single evening, something I genuinely can’t even imagine, added Ana Fedorova with a laugh after performing the Third Concerto, the work deemed the most challenging in piano literature, conveying that the famous Rach 3 demands a lot from the pianist but gives back even more.
The rehearsals were equally thrilling as the concert itself, literally invaded by many pianists using every opportunity to play a little bit with the Belgrade Philharmonic orchestra on every available piano. They were followed by numerous fans who proved that today’s generations have different idols. Mateja, Miriam, and Matilda attended rehearsals, enjoying the performances of the musicians and engaging in conversations with them.
‘I’ve been following Olga Sheps for several years, even when I was in lower school. When I heard her, I fell in love with her performances no matter what she played. I always look for her interpretations, which inspire and motivate me to try and approach my own performances like hers,’ said Mateja Jovanović, a high school student at ‘Stanković.’
Miriam is a fan of Ana Fedorova:
I am thrilled that the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra is playing with these pianists. I always listen to Fedorova’s performances and am familiar with her style. Although we appreciate older examples from piano history, we are more inclined toward pianists of the newer generation because it’s a different school compared to the past. Of course, there are traces of the old school, but most pianists today have a different technique and ideas, explained Miriam Andriolo, the Faculty of Music student. On the other hand, her sister Matilda, a flute student, admired Petr Limonov’s style more.
Rachmaninoff’s intense and powerful music, the unique synergy of conductor, orchestra, and soloists, and the pianists’ devotion to the pieces they performed led the audience into ecstasy, amid deafening applause and ovations, in an unforgettable Philharmonic evening. Another curiosity of the evening – all the soloists of the Rachmaninoff marathon had never met before, despite having heard about each other’s work. The Belgrade concert was the perfect occasion for them to finally get together.