Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2; Debussy: La Mer; Stravinsky: Firebird Suite 

Mega-pianist Andrew von Oeyen teams up with Spoleto's orchestra for the festival's final big-band extravaganza

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What is it? Mega-pianist Andrew von Oeyen teams up with Spoleto's orchestra for the festival's final big-band extravaganza — offering three supremely evocative works that helped to define the music of the early 20th century.

Why see it? Von Oeyen — a perennial hero of the festival — will have his hands full in Béla Bartók's stunning Piano Concerto No. 2, but you can expect his usual triumph. Claude Debussy's La Mer is no doubt our supreme portrait of the sea, in all its wide-ranging moods and states. The lush, kaleidoscopic sonorities of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite should take your breath away. You can depend on Maestro Emmanuel Villaume and his hand-picked band of America's finest young musicians to paint the Gaillard in more vivid orchestral colors than you can count.

Who should go? Anybody who gets their musical jollies from big, brilliant orchestral sound will think they've died and gone to heaven.

SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $10-$65 • 1 hour 45 min. • June 5 at 8 p.m. • Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, 77 Calhoun St. • (843) 579-3100

A 20th Century Blowout: Pianist von Oeyen and friends challenge instrumental limits

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Here's a program guaranteed to make any big-band buff drool: three vital, supremely colorful masterpieces that helped define 20th century music, played by a hand-picked orchestra of America's finest young instrumental talents. Over 900 top students and recent grads from our best music schools audition every year for the 100-member Spoleto Festival Orchestra — and they get worked half to death over the course of 10 opera performances, 10 more Intermezzi and Music in Time events, a big gig with chorus, and, oh, two big orchestral spectaculars, of which this is the second.

Prepare to get blown away by mega-pianist Andrew von Oeyen and friends in Bela Bartók's knuckle-busting Piano Concerto No. 2. It took awhile (like half a century) for this Hungarian master's music to catch on, but most serious music lovers are now able to catch his wild genius. The percussive, kinetic outer movements frame an eerie nocturne that'll take your breath away with its ingeniously layered string textures. My geek's tip for this one: See if you can catch Bartók's sped-up quote from Stravinsky's Firebird finale in the opening bars: you'll hear it elsewhere in this program.

Von Oeyen's playing is likely to leave you breathless, too. Pianists fear this piece as one of the unholy trinity of most technically demanding (like, near-impossible) piano concertos out there, the other two being the Rachmaninoff third and the Prokofiev second. But, after hearing von Oeyen absolutely nail the Rach 3 a few Spoletos back, I expect no less from him here.

After those, you'll be off on a virtual cruise, as you fall under the spell of Claude Debussy's powerfully evocative La Mer, a kaleidoscopic tone-painting of the sea in its many moods. You can sense its restless ebb and flow, "see" frothy plumes of ocean spray, and even feel the rolling swells beneath your imaginary ship. Some even report feeling vaguely seasick as they listen. But most of us can just sit back and drift blissfully along on its magical sonic currents.

Finally, we'll get the best known of Russian sorcerer Igor Stravinsky's several suites that he distilled from The Firebird, the first of three big ballet scores that catapulted him to worldwide notoriety (remember, his Rite of Spring prompted an audience brawl at its Paris premiere). Nowadays, we can all thrill to the music's ear-teasing effects, flashes of color, and sophisticated rhythms.

This orchestra — every player a virtuoso — has what it takes to make this music sizzle and glow. Just think: these are tomorrow's instrumental superstars, but music-making hasn't yet become the stuff of relentless routine for them. They're still full of youthful energy and the passion of discovery, qualities that their conductor, Maestro Emmanuel Villaume, feeds on, harnessing them to produce the kind of bright freshness and musical spontaneity that not even the world's great orchestras can match.

Get your tickets while you still can. No seconds for this program.

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