Italian pianist to perform with Tupelo Symphony

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The term “world class entertainment” gets thrown around quite a bit, but it certainly applies to Tupelo Symphony Orchestra’s next concert.
People from all over the world apply to compete in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.
“It is by all accounts an assemblage of the great young pianists in the world,” said Steven Byess, TSO musical director. “It is a relentless, grueling competition.”
Italian pianist Mariangela Vacatello was among the six finalists. She didn’t win a gold or silver medal, but there were people in the audience who thought she deserved to win.
“Something about Mariangela Vacatello made her embrace the music more, and it struck me emotionally more than any of the other finalists,” Byess said. “I liked her best of all.”
During the Cliburn competition, Vacatello performed Serge Prokofiev’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major.”
“The pianist must slide her fingers over the keys really fast. When I saw Vacatello do this in Fort Worth, it was breathtaking,” Byess said. “She got an immediate and extended ovation because it was so much a part of her. It was second nature.
“She made it look effortless,” he continued. “I can assure you, this is not an effortless piece by any measure.”
Vacatello and TSO will let you hear for yourself Saturday at Link Centre.
“She will play it with grace and verve,” Byess predicted. “You’ll see that she is astonishingly talented.”

Finding balance
Byess described the Prokofiev concerto as “like the experience of being on a very fast and exciting roller coaster. It’s thrilling.”
He saw it as a challenge to program other pieces that would balance out “the explosive burst of energy that is the ‘Piano Concerto No. 3.’”
The concert will open with Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
“It’s so simple. It starts from silence and builds to great intensity, then it goes back to silence,” Byess said. “In my life, it seems like this is one of those pieces that was never really created but has always existed.”
It was played at President Kennedy’s funeral, and was featured in “Platoon” and other movies.
“Most people have heard ‘Adagio for Strings’ in one guise or another,” he said. “It’s a masterpiece.”
It was considered a hit from its very first performance. That can’t be said for Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 4 in E Minor.” The Germans loved it, but the Austrians were perplexed.
“It’s tumultuous in many ways,” Byess said. “It starts with an idea in the first movement that’s similar to beginning a sentence in the middle of a sentence. It’s curious. It’s a little puzzling, the way the symphony begins.”
But that puzzling phrase is repeated and incorporated into all four movements to create what Byess called “a great circular progression.”
There’s a chance people in the audience will have similar reactions to the ones expressed during its debut. Byess asks that you give “Symphony No. 4” a chance to work its magic.
“It’s not a gigantic, brash thing that will blow people away, or some soft, beautiful, touching thing like the ‘Adagio for Strings,’” he said. “This is just going to move people because it’s so beautiful. They may not really understand why.”
Saturday should be a sumptuous night of world class extremes. With help from Vacatello, as well as Barber, Prokofiev and Brahms, the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra will take you on “an incredible journey with mood swings and emotional swings of 180 degrees,” Byess said. “I’m very excited about it.”

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or

A sumptuous night
What: Tupelo Symphony Orchestra with Mariangela Vacatello
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Link Centre Concert Hall
Tickets: $20/advance, $25/at the door, $10/students.
Info: (662) 842-8433

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