Pianist Barry Douglas is a charming person to interview.
Maybe it is his Irish brogue or way of putting you at ease. Most probably, it is his sincere desire to communicate his love of the piano and the wealth of music written for his instrument.
Douglas will be in Fort Worth to make his magic with the ever-popular Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra on May 15, 16 and a matinee on the 17th.
“Even though I play Rachmaninoff frequently, my life currently is centered around Brahms and Schubert,” he said in a recent phone interview, referring to a series of recordings for Chandos Records.
“But whether music is from the 16th or 21st century, my approach is the same. I have to feel that I can do something useful with it and be passionate about it,” he said. “There is no use playing something that is not in my heart.”
This is why his performances and recordings are so popular — they come from a very personal space. Most pianists record the Brahms and Schubert pieces — many times — going back to wax cylinders. It is a fascinating experiment to listen to a series of different pianists play a specific piece and then Douglas’ unmistakable version.
He brings fresh insights to the music that lift it off the dusty page and bring it to life.
When the city of Fort Worth came up in our interview, his tone of voice brightened.
“Fort Worth is a second home to me,” he said. “So many of my good friends live there, I try to get back every year for a visit.”
Winning the bronze medal here in the 1985 Cliburn competition lit the fuse on his explosive career. One year later, he took the gold medal in the International Tchaikovsky Competition, the first non-Russian pianist to win that coveted prize since Fort Worth’s favorite son, Van Cliburn, took the gold and turned the world on its ear.
It is easy to see why he won. The Russian style of Rachmaninoff is practically in Douglas’ DNA. He frequently plays the full cycle of the composer’s works for piano and orchestra.
Rachmaninoff was a formidable pianist himself and wrote his concerti for his own tours. Thus, they are challenging, to say the least, and require superb musicianship, big hand reaches, and nimble fingers. Because they are so pianistic (once learned), pianists love to play Rachmaninoff and audiences want to hear his music.
“I love them all — for different reasons,” he said when asked for a Rachmaninoff favorite. “I first played the third concerto when I was 17 and the second concerto in my early twenties. I love the fourth, but it is tricky to put together. I play it more in Europe and Asia. However, I always look forward to the second.”
And so do we all.
Barry Douglas with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
▪ 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
▪ Bass Hall
▪ 817-665-6000; fwsymphony.org