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Classical Pick of the Week: Ride of the Valkyries

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One of the advantages of living in a city like Los Angeles is the star power it attracts. The LA Opera general director happens to be Placido Domingo, and his turn as Siegmund in the Ring Cycle at the Orange County Performing Arts Center brought renewed interest to the Ring Cycle, which the LA Opera will perform in the summer. The second opera, Die Walkure, begins its run April 4th until April 25th. This opera is best known for the "Ride of the Valkyries" (helicopter sequence in Apocalypse Now and most recently the Vietnam montage in the Watchmen). Linda Watson, Michelle DeYoung and Eric Halfvarson also star.

This week in classical music history was a notable one for Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was born on April 1st and died on March 28th. A late Romantic, Rachmaninoff is best known for his piano works. The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor is one of the most popular and difficult works in the repertoire, a typical work of Rachmaninoff. The second movement was used as the basis for Eric Carmen's hit song "All By Myself."

Rachmaninoff was often self-critical and self-conscious of his works; he destroyed the score of his 1st Symphony right after the premiere (luckily the orchestra members saved their parts). The 2nd Piano Concerto begins with a simple chord progression which gives way to the orchestra who comes in with the theme, giving Rachmaninoff or another pianist time to warm up with the difficult passage going on simultaneously. You can hear recordings of Rachmaninoff play his own pieces, although he takes his pieces at a much faster tempo than indicated (which is why so many performers today perform it at a faster pace). The recording shown above takes it at the tempo given by Rachmaninoff in the score, performed by Helene Grimaud and conducted by Claudio Abaddo.