Kirill Gerstein
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Copley Symphony Hall

750 B Street, Downtown San Diego

The San Diego Symphony concert the weekend of May 16-18 was a mixed bag for me. I'm not speaking of the performance, but the repertoire.

The opening piece was Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky by Anton Arensky for string orchestra and it was wonderful. I can't remember having ever heard his music before but I thought this string endeavor was worthwhile.

Then came Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. I may have had a breakthrough moment with Stravinsky a few years ago with the La Jolla Symphony, but I can admit I'm not sophisticated enough to be a devotee of his music.

I've heard that Stravinsky is a genius and I'm confident that his condition is not up for debate, but I'm just not a fan. I think Stravinsky fans are close to being geniuses themselves.

Maybe that's it. Stravinsky is for geniuses — and I'm not throwing that term about as willy-nilly as the Apple Store does. I'm quite earnest about this.

Perhaps genius is putting the bar too high? Those who "get" Stravinsky are, at the very least, brilliant.

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 finished the concert. This performance was better than any movie could ever hope to be.

When Kirill Gerstein walked onto stage he was, uh, tall. When he set down to play he grew even taller. I'm not exaggerating when I say my attention was riveted on him for the entire performance. When he was playing, nothing else seemed to matter.

I wasn’t watching the screen which highlighted his hands. I was focused on him directly. There was something about him at the piano that was mesmerizing.

It was probably the music that was pouring out of his fingers and flooding the hall. There was a torrential downpour of notes pelting the facilities. During the extended cadenza of the first movement it was like that type of rain when you don’t think it could possibly rain any harder, until it does.

I was almost out of my seat during this section of the concert — literally out of my seat, not figuratively. As Gerstein continued playing, I kept thinking, “I need to stand up. There is too much going on here to just sit.”

I stayed seated, as did the rest of the audience until the piano love-making was over and then we screamed out our gratitude.

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