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Garrick Ohlsson Plays Chopin And Other Weekend Options

Garrick Ohlsson Plays Chopin And Other Weekend Options
Garrick Ohlsson plays Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 at Copley Symphony Hall and the Akram Khan company dance their way across cultural borders.

Maureen Cavanaugh: If you took a poll on who is the most romantic of the romantic composers....the name Frédéric Chopin might just top the list. And on this Valentine's Day weekend preview, The San Diego Symphony is getting in the spirit of the holiday with a concert featuring a Chopin polonaise and concerto. And will talk about the Akram Khan Dance company's performance of "bahok" at UCSD's Mandeville Auditorium.


Marty Wollesen is the artistic director of ArtPower! at UC San Diego.

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MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. If you took a poll on who is the most romantic of the romantic composers, the name Frédéric Chopin might just top the list. And on this Valentine's Day weekend preview, the San Diego Symphony is getting in the spirit of the holiday with a concert featuring a Chopin polonaise and concerto. To talk to us about the symphony program and a few other things happening around town this weekend, I’d like to welcome my guest, Marty Wollesen. He’s the artistic director of ArtPower! at UC San Diego. Marty, welcome to These Days.

MARTY WOLLESEN (Artistic Director, ArtPower!): Great. Great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Well, tell us about this treat for Chopin lovers that’s coming up, the San Diego Symphony.

WOLLESEN: Yeah, well, I’m so much looking forward to it. I love the Symphony and this is, you might know, the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s death. So there is a lot of celebration, not just in San Diego but around the country around that. And it’s an absolute treat because there’s going to be two pieces by Chopin being presented by the Symphony plus a piece by Sibelius but what makes it extra special is Garrick Ohlsson who is one of my favorite pianists and one of the leading pianists in the world and, in fact, one of the most really sublime and beautiful interpreters of Chopin, so it’s a great treat to have this program and this artist playing there.

CAVANAUGH: Now the Concerto is No. 2, so that was written really early in Chopin’s career.

WOLLESEN: Yes, that was written, for all those who are feeling like they’re not achieving enough right now, he wrote it when he was 20, just after 20, so at a very young age. It’s an early piece of his and, in fact, this particular Concerto, No. 2, was actually written after the Concerto, No. – or actually before Concerto, No. 1 because a mishap of…


WOLLESEN: …in missing some of the pieces. But it’s a young piece for him and it sort of expresses his love of the piano in this piece.

CAVANAUGH: What do you like about it?

WOLLESEN: You know, it’s so amazingly dramatic and operatic. It has this gigantic sweep. It’s full of emotion so it’s really perfect for Valentine’s Day. And I think one of the things that is so exciting about the piece is that, you know, actually he wrote this at a time when he was in love with a young singer at the time. And it was a very sort of chaste, innocent love. He had been pining about her, obsessing about her, for months and months and months. He had never spoken to her. And so this piece actually is his voice to this woman he was obsessed and in love with that he never actually spoke with, you know, prior to doing the piece. So it’s really a perfect sort of Valentine’s…


WOLLESEN: …expression of music.

CAVANAUGH: Total romance. Now on the same bill, as you’ve told us, Jahja Ling is going to be conducting the Second Symphony of Sibelius. What can you…


CAVANAUGH: …tell us about this piece?

WOLLESEN: You know, it’s a very popular piece and, again, this was composed at a fairly early age but much older, at 35 for Jean Sibelius, a Finnish composer. You know, it’s, Maureen, it’s 45 minutes of sweep and grandeur and dramatic shifts and mood, instrumental bursts, climaxes, it’s just a really emotionally full experience for an audience member. You know, it’s often described as being a heroic piece and when I think about that, I think it’s because the listener has a sense of adventure that is so thunderous and powerful and heartrending, you know, and certainly very lyrical at times. And I think it makes the listener feel that heroic things are possible.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I – You, Marty, have done such a wonderful job describing these pieces for us but I want to let people know if they want to learn more about the music being performed at this concert, they can arrive 45 minutes early for a program called “What’s the Score?”


CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit about that.

WOLLESEN: That’s something that the Symphony does prior to some of their pieces and it’s moderated by Nuvi Mehta and it is a way for both listeners who are new to the music and listeners who are familiar with the music to have some time to really listen to what they’re going to be hearing in the upcoming concert, to walk through the score, to have an understanding of what the composer was interested in, and it’s just a great way to prepare and get engaged in the music that they’re going to hear in the concert.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Garrick Ohlsson plays Chopin, a Jacobs’ Masterworks Concert, takes place Friday through Sunday at Copley Symphony Hall. You can go to for more information. Marty, since you are the artistic director at ArtPower!, we’re going to take this opportunity to find out more about an ArtPower! event tomorrow night but we want listeners to know that this is an event that you programmed for ArtPower!

WOLLESEN: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, the Akram Khan Dance Company is performing at the Mandeville Auditorium tomorrow night. What can you tell us about this dance company?

WOLLESEN: Sure. Akram Khan is a choreographer based in the U.K., born in the U.K. of Bangladeshi descent. He has really skyrocketed since 2000, really, when he started to debut some solo work as a solo kathak dancer, and kathak, for those who are unfamiliar, is a style of Indian dance. And very quickly thereafter, he began to develop a company of his own and this piece is a piece that was done in collaboration with the National Ballet of China, a piece called “Bahok.” As a company and as an artist, Akram Khan is the type of person who is just this restless investigator and collaborator.

CAVANAUGH: Is it surprising to have that style of dance mixed with the National Ballet of China?

WOLLESEN: Yeah, you know, it’s – it’s both surprising but it’s also completely natural for Akram Khan. He is someone who is investigative about these cross-sections or intersections of working styles and he is a person who, for instance, has done collaborations with Sylvie Guillem, the prima – the French prima ballerina. He’s done choreography for Kylie Minogue, for example, the Australian pop star. So he really is very interested in this intersection of both artistic style and styles of identity.

CAVANAUGH: That’s – that’s a – And I know that Akram Khan recently worked even with actress Juliette Binoche. What did…


CAVANAUGH: What did they do together?

WOLLESEN: Well, really a very beautiful piece. He worked with this, you know, of course, fantastic, beautiful Juliette Binoche, who has no dance training whatsoever, and yet they both created a duet together where both she became a dancer and he became an actor through this piece, and there was spoken word text as part of that. A really beautiful, lovely, gorgeous, lyrical piece that they built together.

CAVANAUGH: What can you tell our listeners about what people might be seeing when they go to “Bahok”?

WOLLESEN: Yeah, it’s a really fantastic piece. It actually takes place in a transit lounge maybe of a train station, maybe of an airport. There’s, in fact, a message board that’s part of the set of a changing sort of travel destinations and he’s really interested in the identities and boundaries that we live with, that we create ourselves and that we also necessarily need to cross. Some of those ballets, as we said, there’s boundaries, as we said earlier, are around classical ballet or kathak or pop movement. But he’s also interested in the intersection of the way we see and the way we translate those differences in our lives. “Bahok” actually means ‘carrier’ in the Bengali language and so it’s the sense of what do we carry with us, what do we take, what do we transmit, what do we discard, and how much of that is of our own choosing? It’s very exciting stuff, and the cast itself is a multi-national cast so it is very much about how we think about the worlds in which we live and the worlds we enter into.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you can see the Akram Khan Dance Company perform “Bahok” Friday night at Mandeville Auditorium on the campus of UCSD. Marty, I can’t believe our time is gone.


CAVANAUGH: It’s just fled. Marty Wollesen is the artistic director of ArtPower! at UC San Diego. Now, you can see more options for Valentine’s Day weekend on Culture Lust, both Valentine’s options and anti-Valentine’s options, always a good thought. They’re at You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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