Irish pianist Barry Douglas is about to make his long-awaited Tucson Symphony Orchestra encore this weekend.
His performance with the orchestra on Friday, Feb. 15, and Sunday, Feb. 17, comes nearly 12 years after he was here last.
And before that late 2007 concert to perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, Douglas had let 13 years pass before we saw him on the bench at Tucson Music Hall.
Call it his 12-or-so-year desert itch.
“Tucson is the place I have to go every 12 years so I can feel whole again,” he joked last week during a phone call from a concert stop in Barcelona, Spain. “Tucson is such a great place. I love the climate. I love the people. The orchestra is great, so it could be a high for me.”
But the long wait will be worth it when Douglas, 58, joins the TSO for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, the same piece that won him the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia in 1986. He was only the second non-Russian — the first was American Van Cliburn — to win.
Douglas doesn’t play the piece often these days; in fact, he has it on his schedule only twice this season.
“I don’t want to play it all the time to where Tchaikovsky would get sick of me or I would get sick of the piece,” he said. “ So I try to limit the times I play the piece so that every time I play it is special in terms of coming fresh to it and trying to make something new of these wonderful notes.”
The last time he played the First Concerto was in the 2016-17 season, when he marked the 30th anniversary of his Tchaikovsky Competition win. His goal then, and now, is to find new nuances to the piece, new ways to express it in the manner in which Tchaikovsky composed the 36-minute work in 1874.
“I think what we’re looking for is the simplicity and the directness of expression and the uncomplicated vulnerability and sincerity. If Tchaikovsky is nothing else, he’s sincere,” Douglas said. “There’s no theatrics … to dazzle. It dazzles because it’s dazzling, but it’s not setting out for that. What it’s doing is trying to be sincere.”
Douglas said he followed the advice he gives to students in his master classes in preparing for this weekend’s concerts: Practice the work enough so that you know the notes, but don’t over-practice.
“Sit down with a cup of coffee and pick up the score like a conductor would pick up a score and look at it with fresh eyes and try to discover things that you’ve never seen before,” he said.
The orchestra will fill the second half of the concert with the orchestra’s first-ever performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, a behemoth work that is richly melodic and warm and somber. The symphony runs about an hour.