In a beautiful coincidence, Russian pianist Lukas Geniusas will be onstage with the Utah Symphony for the "Russian Masters" performance the weekend of Oct. 26.
Geniusas, 22, is the 2010 gold medalist of Salt Lake City's Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, which awards the winner the opportunity to perform with the Utah Symphony.
Without regard to the program, Geniusas was scheduled for this weekend's performances in pure happenstance, said Hilarie Ashton, public-relations manager for the orchestra. He will join the orchestra in this performance of the passionate "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," considered one of Rachmaninoff's greatest compositions.
"It is one of the masterpieces of piano literature, both pianistically and musically," Geniusas said. "We can say many beautiful words and things about it, but let the music sound unspoiled with words."
The Rachmaninoff piece will be joined by three other Russian works (composed by Shostakovich, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov), and the orchestra will be conducted by Gerard Schwarz.
Geniusas was born to a family of musicians in Moscow and started learning piano at 5. "It would be an entirely different life and destiny if I [were] not be born in such a musical surrounding," he said. "Music started to soak into me from the very beginning of life, which predetermined the whole subject of my way in this life."
Not that he's complaining. He enrolled in the preparatory department of F. Chopin Music College, one of the oldest music schools in Moscow, where his great-grandmother once taught and his mother currently teaches. "My parents sent me to study there in order to continue a kind of a family tradition," he said.
Yet he credits his grandmother, Vera Gornostaeva, as his musical mentor. "She was a person [who passed] on [to] me her tremendous experience, to show me the colossal universe of music and to build the foundation of my piano skills," Geniusas said. "It is impossible to overestimate her role in my formation."
Winning the Bachauer in 2010 marked a milestone in his life. He had played in many competitions previously, but it was his first major international win. "It meant much for me, and especially it had an unique quality since I was awarded with it on the day of my 20th birthday."
He remembers his time in Utah fondly. "I would separately mention an excellent hospitality of the family [whom] I lived with, [emblematic of] a specific and wonderful nature of Utah," he said, before adding what else he remembered: "those unforgettable moments of agitation that I lived through during the competition."
The rest of the evening will be devoted to Shostakovich's "October" (a dynamic ode written about the 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution), Borodin's showpiece Second Symphony and Rimsky-Korsakov's melodic telling of "The Tale of Tsar Saltan," based on Pushkin's poem.
Schwarz called the evening a showcase of quintessential music from Russia. "You hear the music, and you know it's from that heritage," he said. Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov were members of the famed Five, a group of largely self-trained Russian composers who in the late 19th century focused on writing music that was nationalistic, orchestrating what they heard in folk songs, Cossack dances and rural church music, among other sources.
Schwarz is music director of the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina and Jack Benaroya Conductor Laureate of the Seattle Symphony; he completed his final season as music director of the Seattle Symphony in 2011 after 26 years at the helm.
He said he has always been attracted to three styles when he programmed schedules: contemporary American classical music, German compositions of the 19th century and Russian works of the 19th and 20th centuries. The features of the latter are laden with "emotional content," he said, and he finds inspiration in the way the composers strove to create their own sound, rather than imitate the Western European composers who preceded them.
Schawz, 65, said the late Gina Bachauer (a close friend of Maurice Abravanel) was a welcomed pianist in Seattle, and he is eager to meet the most recent winner of the competition named in her honor. "Working with the pianist will be a joy," he said.
Pianist Lukas Geniusas joins the Utah Symphony in performances of Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody. Guest conductor Gerard Schwarz also leads the orchestra in music of Shostakovich, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov.
When • Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27, 8 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $18 to $67 ($5 more on concert day); 801-355-ARTS, at the ticket office or http://www.utahsymphony.org.
Learn more • Schwarz and Utah Symphony artistic-planning VP Toby Tolokan will present a free preconcert chat onstage each evening at 7.