Pianist Orion Weiss finds hope for humanity in music | Arts & Theater

One of the projects pianist Orion Weiss has been working on during these pandemic times is a series of recordings of music written in the early 1910s, just before the world descended into World War I.

The first disc, titled “Arc I: Granados, Janacek, Scriabin,” which will be released March 18, features solo piano works that reflect the composers’ awareness of what was to come, and the horror and despair they felt.

The fact that rumors of similar wars are currently circulating around the world is something of which Weiss is acutely aware.

“The world has been going through so much the past few years — first with the COVID pandemic, and now the prospect of a European war,” Weiss said. “If anything, it’s made me appreciate music even more.

“Music has been such a safe haven for me during all this,” he said. “Music gives us a way to express all kinds of feelings, and allows us to communicate across languages ​​and borders. It brings us together in such marvelous ways.”

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Weiss will be part of the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra’s latest effort to bring diverse people together through music, when he will perform the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Bela Bartok as part of the orchestra’s concert titled “Unfinished.”

The program, led by principal guest conductor Daniel Hege, will also feature the Overture to “Prince Igor” by Borodin, as well as the Symphony No. 8, the “Unfinished,” by Schubert.

This will be Weiss’ first time to perform with the orchestra, although he has performed a few years ago at Oral Roberts University, and was part of a chamber music ensemble that appeared at the 2012 OK Mozart Festival in Bartlesville.

He had been scheduled to play Gershwin’s Concerto in F as part of the TSO’s 2020-2021 season, but that concert was canceled because of the pandemic.

However, Weiss said, he is pleased to be able to perform the Bartok concerto, which is a piece that does not get programmed often enough.

“Bartok always created such a rich and exciting musical world in his work, that it’s always an adventure to play a piece like this,” Weiss said.

The concerto was the final work Bartok composed; he died before he could finish orchestrating the final few bars of the piece. And while it was written during an intensely difficult time, as Bartok battled leukemia while struggling to find someplace to live after fleeing Hungary during World War II, the work has an almost surprisingly cheery air.

“It almost sounds like the work of a young man, in its brightness and sense of optimism,” Weiss said. “Bartok’s first two piano concertos are hyperactive, over-the-top pieces, full of virtuosic fireworks. But this concerto is more intimate. It has moments of drama and passion, but it’s not a dark piece by any means.”

The work’s second movement contains examples of what has been called Bartok’s “night music,” which can evoke the sounds of the natural world.

“There are times when this ‘night music’ can be scary,” Weiss said. “The passages in the second piano concerto remind me of something Alfred Hitchcock might have used during the attack scenes in ‘The Birds.’

“But in this work, the ‘night music’ is more tuneful, and quite beautiful,” he said. “To me, it helps give the movement a sense of heartfelt depth, a sense of hope. And for me, that is one of the great things that art can do. It can truly lift us up, and help us transcend the scariness of humanity.”

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james.watts@tulsaworld.com

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