For Barry Douglas, a return to Fresno and a first with the Philharmonic

If there were a “frequent player” program, similar to the airlines, for professional classical musicians who come to perform in Fresno, Barry Douglas would be racking up the benefits. The Irish pianist is a familiar name to fans of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State, where he has performed five times.

Pictured above: Barry Douglas will perform Shostakovich.

But despite all that keyboard time in the central San Joaquin Valley, Douglas — whose honors include a bronze medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, a gold medal at the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, and being named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) — has never performed with the Fresno Philharmonic.

Until now.

He will play the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2 on Sunday, Feb. 16, in a concert that also features the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 and Gabriela Lena Frank “Escaramuza.”

Douglas is a busy guy, as you’d expect, between recording sessions, concertizing at the world’s major halls and conducting Camerata Ireland, which he founded in 1989. But this week, between rehearsing, press appearances and racing through airports, he did manage to answer a few questions I sent to him by email:

Q: You’ve played at Fresno’s Keyboard Concerts series five times, but this will be a first for you to perform with the Fresno Philharmonic, right? Orchestra fans might say, what took you so long?


A: So looking forward to working with the orchestra and with Maestra Rei Hotoda — it was actually at my last visit that we all met together and dreamt up a nice concert with the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 2 — which at that time had been a new piece for me, and I had fallen in love with it. I have played so much Russian music over the years, and Shostakovich No. 1 also – but never No 2. What an amazingly beautiful piece of music ! I have loved visiting Fresno over the years and playing at Andreas’s great piano series! So wonderful to be coming back!

Q: I interviewed you for the Fresno Bee in 2010 and asked if your passion for leading Camerata Ireland had an impact on your continued growth as a piano soloist.

You answered: “Certainly I have always conducted orchestras and choirs — since I was a teenager. But I notice that having a command of a large orchestral score and memorizing it means that I approach the piano scores in a similar way. One has to plan an interpretation a little and then leave the rest to the spur of the moment. However I should say that all things in life make an impact — even mundane things. Camerata Ireland is really at the centre of my musical being as it is so many things to me and at the same time I get so much from it and this enriches my piano playing.”

Is your answer to my question any different 10 years later?

A: The basis of that answer is still the same, although, things evolve and I have evolved, thankfully as a musician and pianist – with more experience and repertoire and collaborations, one changes fundamentally – hopefully for the better!! Camerata Ireland has evolved, too, and our music-making has deepened and got more exciting, I think. Lots of nice plans for the future! However, my life as a pianist is sacrosanct ,and I am always hatching new repertoire and festival plans. It is important to always change and develop!

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Q: Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which you’ll be performing with the Fresno Philharmonic, has been described as effervescent and one of the composer’s most light-hearted works. Do you get into “character,” so to speak, by channeling your cheerful side before performing a piece like this? Does it put you in a good mood afterward?

A: It is all of those things that you say- although it has a delicate, vulnerable side even in the fast bit of the music — it is a really touching piece, and while joyous, it is also extremely human. This is a fantastic aspect for the piece. Can’t wait!

Show info

Fresno Philharmonic with pianist Barry Douglas, 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, Saroyan Theatre. Tickets are $25-$81.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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