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Hough bringing ‘Egyptian’ to Utah Symphony

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Stephen Hough

Stephen Hough

Christian Steiner

Stephen Hough, one of today's most recorded and sought-after pianists, performs with the Utah Symphony this weekend.

This is the latest of several appearances in Utah for Hough in the past few years. Most recently, he gave a recital in Logan as part of Utah State University's Wassermann Festival.

This time, audiences will get a different perspective of the British pianist as he plays Camille Saint-Sa?s' Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major ("Egyptian") as part of an all-French program conducted by Claus Peter Flor.

The concerto's companion pieces on the program are Maurice Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin" and César Franck's Symphony in D minor. (And while Franck was in fact Belgian, he spent his entire creative life in France.)

Speaking with the Deseret News by phone from Chicago, where he is finishing up a multiyear residency with Northwestern University, Hough said he's looking forward to returning to Utah and also to collaborating with Flor.

"I've worked with him a number of times over the years," Hough said. "It's always nice when you can be with the same conductor every so often." As collaborators, the soloist and conductor build a strong artistic bond, Hough said. "You work intensely together for a few days, then you don't see each other for maybe 18 months, then you get the chance to work intensely together again. That's the nature of the job."

Hough has performed and recorded Saint-Sa?s' five piano concertos, but the Fifth is among his favorites.

"I've played it a lot. It's an audience-friendly piece that goes all over the place. It's filled with Middle Eastern harmonies and scales." The work was written in Egypt on one of Saint-Sa?s' frequent trips to North Africa, where he loved to go to escape his hectic schedule.

Among the five piano concertos, the Fifth has never found a permanent place in the repertoire. The Second, on the other hand, is certainly the best known and most frequently played of the five. "The Second became so popular because of Arthur Rubinstein," Hough said. "He played it often for some 50 years of his long career. It ended up becoming a repertoire piece."

That has never happened with the Fifth. "It's never had a champion. I've played it a lot, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays it, but it's certainly not in everyone's repertoire."

It's not really surprising that Hough does it, since he has a reputation for playing and recording lesser-known works — even those by famous composers. In fact, one of his undertakings at the moment is playing all of Tchaikovsky's works for piano and orchestra.

Everyone knows Tchaikovsky's Concerto in B flat minor. But only a few people — including musicians — know that he wrote two other concertos as well as the Concert Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra. Hough's recording of these works was released in April as a two-disc album on the Hyperion label with the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo V?sk? He's also been doing a Tchaikovsky cycle with orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic.

"I did them at the BBC Proms last summer, and I'll be playing them again with the Chicago Symphony over two concerts in December and January."

Until he recorded the Tchaikovsky album, Hough had never played the B flat minor Concerto. "I'd been teaching it in master classes, but I had never played it or any of the other works."

While teaching it, Hough came to appreciate what "a fantastic piece it was." He also decided to look at the Second and ended up falling in love with it. And that led to the Third Concerto and the Concert Fantasia. "I've really grown to love all of Tchaikovsky's lesser-known works."

With more than 50 albums under his belt, Hough is still as busy as ever in the recording studio. "I will be recording the Chopin waltzes at the end of the year. After that, I'll record the two Liszt concertos and the Grieg concerto on one CD."

Hough has been with the British label Hyperion for years, and he has complete artistic freedom. "I can record whatever I like, and that has enabled me to do a lot of unusual works that larger record labels wouldn't even consider. It's a wonderful position to be in."

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com

If you go...

What: Stephen Hough, piano, Utah Symphony, Claus Peter Flor, conductor

Where: Abravanel Hall

When: May 7-8, 8 p.m.

How much: $16-$51 (ticket prices increase $5 when purchased on the day of performance)

Phone: 801-355-2787 or 888-451-2787

Group discounts: 801-533-6683

Web: utahsymphony.org

Also: Finishing Touches Dress Rehearsal, Abravanel Hall, 10 a.m. May 7, $14