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Pianist coming home to perform

Watanabe to play in the finale of Mozart Festival

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Salt Lake concertgoers will get a long-overdue chance to hear one of Utah's best pianists when Eugene Watanabe joins Keith Lockhart and the Utah Symphony for the final concert of this year's Mozart Festival on Thursday, Aug. 17.

Watanabe will be the soloist for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, a work he feels is one of Mozart's finest concertos. "I consider it to be one of his greatest works for piano and orchestra," he told the Deseret News. "It's the first (concerto) he wrote in a minor key, and it's full of amazing things.

"The first movement has all the drama you find in 'Don Giovanni,' and the second movement is a very beautiful piece, in spite of the tragic outburst in the middle of it. I think (the D minor concerto) is really an incredible work."

This is going to be the second time that Watanabe will have performed this particular concerto with the Utah Symphony. "I played it back in '89 or '90 with the orchestra," he said.

The Salt Lake native also says he is excited about finally getting the chance to collaborate with Lockhart at this week's concert. "This is the first time I'll be working with Keith Lockhart, and I'm very much looking forward to it."

Up until now, Watanabe has been concentrating mainly on doing orchestral concerts and solo recitals, but recently he's also started performing more chamber music. "After my concert here, I'll be traveling to Calgary, where I'm going to do a series of chamber concerts," he said. "I enjoy doing chamber music, but I haven't been able to do as much as I would like."

Even though local audiences probably know Watanabe best as a pianist, he is also a virtuoso violinist. And in fact, when Watanabe finished his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1992, he was the first student in the school's history to graduate with degrees in both piano and violin.

However, after recently winning first prize at the Calgary International Piano Competition, he has had to put his violin aside and spend more time with the piano. "I love the violin and want to keep it up," he said, "but since I won a piano competition, I've had to focus on the piano, of course, since part of the first prize was a series of concerts."

Last fall, Watanabe recorded his first CD, under the auspices of the Calgary competition. Scheduled to be released sometime this year, it consists of solo piano pieces by American composers. "It's an all-American album," Watanabe said. "There are pieces by Copland, Barber and Gershwin. Among the pieces are the (Leonard) Bernstein transcription of (Copland's) 'El Salon Mexico' and six preludes by Gershwin. Three of those are the well-known preludes, and the other three are ones that have been published in the last several years. I like to do things that haven't been done or are a little unusual."

The Aug. 17 concert takes place in Abravanel Hall at 7:30 p.m. Besides the D minor Concerto, there will be one other work by Mozart on the program, his Symphony No. 35 in D major, "Haffner." And since the evening is called "Mozart's Legacy," there will also be a couple of pieces by later composers who were inspired by the Austrian master Ibert's "Hommage a Mozart" and Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 4 in G major, op. 61, "Mozartiana."

Tickets for the concert are priced from $10-$23, with student tickets selling for $8. Tickets can be purchased by calling ArtTix at 801-355-ARTS or 1-888-451-ARTS, or in person at the ArtTix outlets in Abravanel Hall and the Capitol Theatre, or online at www.arttix.org.

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com