Spotlight Columns

Nakamatsu, Folsom Lake Symphony bring Russian romantics to life in ‘Epic Victory’

By From page B2 | September 27, 2017

American pianist and international talent Jon Nakamatsu will perform works by two Russian composers, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), at the Harris Center on Oct. 14. Courtesy photo

If you think the Folsom Lake Symphony just keeps getting better, you aren’t mistaken.

“Practice makes perfect” goes the old saying. And any artist can tell you that the more one practices, the better one gets. The local musicians who make up the FLS certainly practice their craft and exercise it under the careful baton of the FLS conductor, Maestro Peter Jaffe.

But practice will only take you part of the way. It takes talent, too.

This is something our musicians have in spades. The majority could be in places like New York, Chicago or San Francisco. But they value the Sacramento Valley and the Sierra foothills as good places to raise families, for the great access to the mountains or the seashore and for a host of other reasons.

To bring things full circle, the FLS board carefully plans each season a year or more in advance. These talented people add their input to the programs, tiny details musicians need to perform at their peak, and to the inviting of guest artists who shine like diamonds in our symphonic setting.

The result is impressive. I was recently at a performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Lincoln Center. Frankly, I think our local symphony — now more than 10 years old — stands up rather well. Guest artists can perform in Folsom with confidence.

And the stars are coming to perform with the FLS.

The old riddle goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer: “Practice! Practice! Practice!”

This is something American pianist Jon Nakamatsu knows well. He has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He is a prodigy critics consider a “true aristocrat of the keyboard, whose playing combines elegance, clarity and electrifying power.”

A native of California, Nakamatsu studied under Marina Derryberry and worked with Karl Ulrich Schnabel, son of the great pianist Artur Schnabel. He came to international attention in 1997 when he won the Gold Medal at the tenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He is the first American to achieve this distinction since 1981.

Nakamatsu is the featured soloist at the Folsom Lake Symphony’s first official performance of the season on Oct. 14 at the Harris Center on the Folsom Lake College campus.

The performance opens with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18.” Written at the turn of the 20th century, Rachmaninoff was the soloist for the first performance on Nov. 9, 1901, in Moscow. The premiere, with the composer at the keyboard, was a major triumph, and the concerto quickly became Rachmaninov’s greatest hit, nearly replacing the beloved C-sharp minor prelude in the public’s affection. The C minor concerto became Rachmaninoff’s new calling card, and he performed it around the world.

Following the intermission, Nakamatsu and the FLS will perform Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5 in D minor.”

There is some controversy surrounding this work.

Composed in 1936 to placate Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, this work was titled “A Soviet Artist’s Response to a Just Criticism.” Stalin did not like Shostakovich’s previous work (it was too complex) and artists who crossed the party line often “disappeared.” Shostakovich’s life depended on how well Stalin and the party liked the 5th Symphony.

At the premiere in 1937, the Soviet audience, moved to tears, gave Symphony No. 5 a 40-minute standing ovation.

The 5th Symphony, by virtue of its “simplified” language, signaled to the party that a significant rehabilitation had occurred. It was an odd message for them to receive, given the symphony’s lack of overt patriotism and rather sullen slow movement.

But the audience reaction created a propaganda problem. How could they further denounce a man who had just elicited a 40-minute ovation?

Soviet conductor and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich reportedly believed that the piece would have gotten Shostakovich killed if not for the thunderous response of the listeners.

So, did Shostakovich outsmart Stalin or simply give him what he wanted? It is quite possible that with this mighty masterpiece Shostakovich actually did one while secretly affecting the other and that “A Soviet Artist’s Creative Reply to Just Criticism” can be quite creative indeed.

Attend the Folsom Lake Symphony’s performance and you be the judge.

Tickets are available by calling (916) 608-6888 or visiting The Epic Victory concert is Saturday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Folsom Lake College’s Harris Center facility. Also visit

Send your event for consideration in Susan’s column to [email protected]

Susan Laird

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