11 steps to playing a Rachmaninov concerto like a BOSS

14 April 2015, 23:15 | Updated: 15 April 2015, 12:55

At Classic FM Live at the Royal Albert Hall, we spent the day with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, a pianist who can effortlessly despatch the trickiest of concertos. His amazingness has inspired us to think about, and crack the art of, the Rach.

Powering your way through Rachmaninov's third piano concerto, or belting out his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, is no mean feat. Of course, we know you're awesome and will be fully prepared when the orchestra starts tuning up, but here are a few tips just in case. (We had the amazing Jean-Efflam Bavouzet to help with some of these tips.)

1. Choose your piece

Choose from four piano concertos, and a set of Paganini variations. Nail your piece, and you'll be playing it all your life, so choose carefully. (And no, you can't have them all. You're not Earl Wilde.)

2. Get into the piano

Literally. The best pianistic publicity photos always involve the pianist under the bonnet of one of their beloved machines. Here's our star, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, to model the look.

3. Flowing hair

Is it a fortissimo coda, or is it a shampoo commercial? That's the kind of question you really need to think about. (The answer is both, by the way.)

4. Hands I

Rachmaninov's piano writing is famously full of big intervals – 10ths are not uncommon. The odd 11th too. (Eek.)


An 11th... Jean-Efflam Bavouzet#RachHands at #ClassicFMlive

A photo posted by Classic FM (@classicfm) onApr 14, 2015 at 8:14am PDT

5. Hands II

Because it's important. The handily well-endowed Jean-Efflam Bavouzet explains more.


This is pretty cool...

Posted by Kyle Macdonald on Tuesday, 14 April 2015

6. Hands III

Those Rachmaninov chords can be tough to reach. Here's an expert explanation (and solution).

7. Hands IV

Clearly we've been heavily implying that size matters. But you may be comforted to know there are many great Rachmaninov pianists who had more modest spans. (Click for a closer look.)

pianist hand span infographic
















8. Practice

Even before the rehearsals begin, you've got to be laying down your lines. Do it and you're well on your way to amazing. Here's the proof:


While the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is gathering , Variation IV of the "Rachmanini" is in practicing process

Posted by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet on Monday, 13 April 2015

9. Choose an amazing orchestra

If you're going to smash out a concerto, make sure you have some of the best strings, woodwind and brass behind you to egg you on. In the '80s, Ashkenazy had the LSO; in the noughties, Hough had the Dallas Symphony. Tonight at Classic FM Live, Jean-Efflam has the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra – and they're more than up for it.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet Classic FM Live 2015

10. Don't be freaked out by the score

It may look formidable, but if you master them they will become your friends. What's so scary about mega-fast triplets over quavers anyway?

11. And just go for it

Cracked it, smashed it. Take that, Rachmaninov.

Here's Jean-Efflam Bavouzet with some words of encouragement...