There's an interesting backstory to the piano concerto that is the focus of the Houston Symphony's concert Andre Watts Plays Rachmaninoff, our pick for Friday. The Russian pianist and composer had fallen into a deep depression after the critical failure of his first symphony (the work later went on to much acclaim). Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in Cm, Op. 18 was considered brilliant at its 1901 premiere, a signal the composer had fully recovered. The concerto has been called "among the most beautiful music in the world" and is one of the most popular among Watts's repertoire.
There's an extended clarinet solo in the second movement that will be played by symphony member Thomas LeGrand. According to him, "It is a true masterwork and it's absolutely beautiful, especially in the hands of a really fine pianist and a good orchestra." LeGrand goes on to say that while the backstory is interesting, it isn't necessary for an audience to know it in order to appreciate the piece. "I think the time Rachmaninoff was going through at that moment in his personal life is very evident in his music. And I think it speaks without the story. [The] music speaks for itself very clearly, [with] the beautiful, radiant quality...the excitement. It's really a very uplifting piece."
See Andre Watts Plays Rachmaninoff at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713‐224‐7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $25 to $130.
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We're still reeling from the Houston Ballet's recent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, easily one of the best dance performances in the last two years. So we're looking forward to the company's From Houston to the World, a mixed-rep program composed of works created especially for the dancers of the Houston Ballet and one of our picks for Saturday.
The program includes Edwaard Liang's breathtakingly beautiful Murmuration. The inspiration for the work, which features eight couples and a male dancer, came from Liang's observation of starling birds flocking together as they fly, a phenomenon called murmuration. Even though there is no leader, the group of birds seems to move as one; they never collide into each other though each is in constant movement, changing direction and swirling through the sky. Liang's choreography mimics the patterns made by the birds in flight with dancers freely weaving in and out of each other's path but never striking one another.
Also on the program is Jorma Elo's ONE/end/ONE and Stanton Welch's Paquita.
See From Houston to the World at 7:30 p.m. on September 20, 26, 27; 2 p.m. on September 21 and 28. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713‐227‐2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $20 to $195.
"We know it's a weird premise," says Ira Glass, the voice of Three Acts, Two Dancers, and One Radio Host, being performed on Saturday. Best known for his work on the Peabody Award winning radio program This American Life, Glass understands that the idea of mixing the very visual medium of dance and very un-visual medium of radio together is unusual. Fans will recognize some of the stories told, but don't expect Glass to be front and center talking while choreographer Monica Bill Barnes and dancer Anna Bass act out the story around him. "We thought that would be corny," says Glass. "Why even have dancers at that point?"
Instead, the show features the radio host and the dancers telling parallel stories that overlap but play to the strengths of their individual mediums. The vocabulary is different, but the spirit is the same. "When I saw Monica Bill Barnes's choreography, I thought, 'This is what we do on the radio show, just a little different. People who love our radio show would love this,'" says Glass. "But we know this is weird. We think it's weird, too."
Ira Glass and company take the stage at 8 p.m. on Saturday. Wortham Theater Center. 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-4772 or visit spahouston.org. $38 to $78.
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On Sunday, the 2014/2015 Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series opens with novelist David Mitchell, author of The Bones Clocks. Called "a genius" by The New York Times Book Review,Mitchell has been named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time magazine. His previous work includes the mega-hit Cloud Atlas (winner of the British Book Award for Best Literary Fiction and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize), Number9Dream (also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize) and Ghostwritten.
Mitchell's new release was called "a thing of beauty" by Publishers Weekly in a starred review and said to "take even greater risks at even greater length" by New York Magazine. A family saga that takes the reader from 1980s England to 2004 Baghdad, then to 2043 Ireland (following the collapse of society), The Bone Clocks has already been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
David Mitchell reads from The Bone Clock at 7:30 p.m. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713521 2026 or visit inprinthouston.org. $5.
In a departure from history and from his usual brittle and sophisticated comedies, playwright Noel Coward wrote a story in which the Battle of Britain was lost to Germany, which has taken over England. Little produced -- it has a large cast and while it has humorous elements, it is a serious work -- Peace in Our Time is something the Main Street Theater had wanted to do for a while according to Main Street's artistic director, Rebecca Greene Udden, who will also direct. The production is one of our choices for Sunday.
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The University of Houston was looking for more outlets for its theater students since a lot of its main stage time is being taken up by the Alley Theatre during the latter's renovations, she said, and this play calling for 30 or more parts (winnowed to 24 in this production) seemed like a good fit. "It's certainly an interesting departure from what we think of as Noel Coward," she said. "This is very much in the style of the sort of patriotic, little bit jingoistic movies produced during the war except this was written after the war. It was inspired by his understanding of what the French went through living under the Occupation and how would his countrymen have adapted to being occupied. It was a sort of hypothetical what would it have been like if we had been occupied by the Germans the way the French were."
Set in what Udden calls "the quintessential British location" -- the pub -- it offers a cross section of humanity: opportunists, collaborators and the resistance. "I think it's a great story, and you really care about these people. It is an old fashioned story in a way. In fact, the challenge for the actors is understanding that they can't make this a contemporarysounding piece. It's not. It also has a lot to say about how people's minds, how their ideals can be undermined by the conditions under which they live." Nine UH students will have the chance to act along with these professionals: Joel Sandel, Joe Kirkendall, Elizabeth Marshall Black, Pamela Vogel, Rutherford Cravens and Celeste Roberts in the two-our, two-act production.
Peace in Our Time curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and September 22, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Through October 19. Main Street heater, Rice Village, 2540 Times Boulevard. For information, call 713‐524‐6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $20 to $39.
Cory Garcia and Margaret Downing contributed to this post.