Jeremy Denk, who will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 for the first time in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s history.

Tucson Symphony Orchestra

Pianist Jeremy Denk will earn a footnote in Tucson Symphony Orchestra history this weekend.

In his first concert in Tucson, Denk will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 for the first time in the orchestra’s 85-year history.

“That’s kind of a nice distinction,” Denk, 43, said early this week.

Denk and the Mozart piece have become fast friends over the past year. He played it on tour with the San Francisco Symphony last fall, including a stop at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in January. Some day soon he hopes to record it.

“It’s a very special piece for me,” he said. “It has kind of uncanny beauty.”

The concerto opens with what Denk describes as “this giant teenager fanfare.”

“There is almost no melody at the beginning. It’s all about harmony. And it is always incredibly light and brilliant,” he said.

A short way into the work and Mozart “kind of pulls the rug out from under you and puts you straight into the minor key and everything turns kind of dark” and unbridled.

“A very simple rondo (in the last movement) keeps slipping on the banana peel of the minor key and the most extraordinary example of it happens in the middle episode of the rondos. And there’s this amazing place where this very major key kind of turns into this dark exploration,” he said.

Denk, who grew up in neighboring New Mexico, comes to Tucson with a prestigious Avery Fisher Award given to him two weeks ago and the even more prestigious MacArthur Fellow, commonly called the genius award, which he received last September. In between a demanding performance career and teaching, Denk is a widely published music critic and essayist and is working on a comic opera based on the late pianist and scholar Charles Rosen’s “The Classical Style.”

TSO Conductor George Hanson paired the Mozart with another TSO first, the orchestra’s performance of Wagner’s “Ring Without Words.” The piece, assembled in 1987 by renowned American composer Lorin Maazel, distills Wagner’s four-opera, 17-hour “Ring” opera cycle into a 70-minute orchestral piece.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642.

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.