March 15, 2016 -- style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt;">The recent passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan brings to mind many of President Ronald Reagan’s pivotal moments in office, not the least of which were the five summits with Mikhail Gorbachev. Through these negotiations, both men signed an historic treaty to reduce nuclear weapons. This era in Russia became known as “glasnost” or “openness” and led to a brand new dialogue between former rival countries. To honor that legacy, chamber ensembles from “The President’s Own” will present an all-Russian program at 2 p.m., Sunday, March 20 at the John Philip Sousa Band Hall in southeast Washington, D.C. Coordinated by principal percussion Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Latimer, the program will include Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Opus 110 and Dances of the Dolls; Alexander Glazunov’s Rêverie orientale; Soulima Stravinsky’s String Quartet No. 1; and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2, Opus 17.
Latimer’s appreciation for the composers and sounds of Russia comes from experiencing the culture first-hand. “In 1990 I traveled with the American Soviet Youth Orchestra and saw the Soviet Union, its people, and performed its music; right before it all changed,” he said. “I especially love the works of Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff. I admire the suffering and passion they both so thoughtfully reveal in their music.” As a result, he selected Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2 for two pianists. “I thought it would be exciting to have a work for two pianos performed,” he said. “So often, our pianists accompany our many small ensembles. But this time, a feature for two pianos would really showcase their talents.”
The Rachmaninoff will be performed by pianists Gunnery Sgt. AnnaMaria Mottola and Staff Sgt. Christopher Schmitt, neither of whom have performed it before. Although it was written for two pianists to perform each on a piano, Rachmaninoff composed it so intricately that the audience will hardly be able to discern who is playing what and when. Mottola took a short break from practicing to explain the enormity of the Suite and some of its challenges: “I have wanted to work on this piece for over 15 years, so I am excited to be performing it with Chris,” she said. “It is exceedingly difficult in that it features many different virtuosic abilities for the pianists. Rachmaninoff had extremely large hands and wrote piano music for himself to play so there are some challenging parts with huge chords especially in the first movement.”
Each movement is a dizzying display of virtuosity: the waltz movement features very fast technique with intricate moving lines while the romance movement is very emotive with lush voicing and a need for sensitivity. And the tarantella movement conveys great energy and urgency with lots of volume and speed from both players. “Ultimately this piece has everything you could possibly need to conquer as a pianist technically and musically,” Mottola said. “The audience will enjoy its versatility and romantic musicality.”
“I hope the concertgoers enjoy the wide variety of instrumentation and small groups, while also showcasing Russian composers,” Latimer said.
The concert is free and no tickets are required. Free parking is also available under the overpass on 7th Street across from the annex. The concert will also stream live beginning at 2 p.m. (EDT) on the Marine Band website www.marineband.marines.mil.
Complete program and program notes
Directions and parking information