Why this virtuoso reimagined a Rachmaninov Concerto as an epic for solo piano

16 January 2024, 18:09 | Updated: 19 January 2024, 15:47

Why this virtuoso reimagined a Rachmaninov Concerto as an epic for solo piano | Classic FM

By Kyle Macdonald

Rising star pianist Arsha Kaviani took one of classical music’s most formidable pieces of music, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2, and set himself a solo challenge of a mind-blowing symphonic scale.

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Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 is regarded as one of the most fierce, demanding and virtuosic works in the classical repertoire. The monumental three-movement work takes you on an incredible journey, from emotional depths to euphoric heights, with lots of fast-paced action for soloist and orchestra alike.

The concerto was premiered in 1901 and rapidly became a work of almost unrivaled popularity, with a blend of show-stopping symphonic virtuosity and tear-jerking lyricism.

That popularity endures today – in 2023 it was voted to the top of the Classic FM Hall of Fame, our annual survey of classical music tastes. A huge, crashing orchestra and finger-blurring piano centre stage – what’s not to love?

Vote in the Classic FM Hall of Fame 2024

But one pianist has quite a different relationship with this concerto for piano and orchestra.

British-Iranian virtuoso Arsha Kaviani can ably thunder out this piece as a soloist in the traditional way.

But alongside that, Kaviani offers another incarnation of Rachmaninov’s epic, created by himself – an arrangement for solo piano, where soloist plays both the keyboard and orchestral parts. Watch above as he shares the background and quite staggering feat of his arrangement.

Proving both versions are very much under his belt, in October 2023, he stunned a Royal Albert Hall audience of 5,000 in a performance of the work with our Orchestra in Northwest England, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at Classic FM Live.

Storming Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 finale at the Royal Albert Hall | Classic FM

Read more: Arsha Kaviani plays mind-bending solo piano arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2

For Kaviani, the genesis of his solo arrangement was not about creating a solo piano calling card, or virtuosic novelty – he tells us it actually came about out of sheer and simple necessity.

The pianist was born in Dubai in 1990, to parents who had moved from Iran in the 1970s. He says that growing up in the Middle East, he did not have access to orchestras to play with – all he had ready access to were sheet music, and his piano at home.

To play, listen to and explore great concertos, he had to play the orchestral parts alongside those of the solo piano. Over time, these quite practical imaginations began to take on a life and possibility of their own.

Kaviani has completed a full arrangement of the first movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, recording it for Classic FM in March 2023. Watch it below.

Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2… for solo piano! | Arsha Kaviani | Classic FM

The pianist talks about the difficulties in transferring the strings, brass and winds of the orchestra onto the piano, which is essentially a percussion instrument, without the ability to hold and swell notes.

But for him, it’s all a challenge he’s up for. He says there has been huge interest in his arrangement since its debut on Classic FM channels, and is now offering sale of the sheet music on his website.

“And who knows,” he speculates. “If it takes off, maybe I’ll arrange the second and third movement as well.”