A handsome and charismatic young pianist and a concerto that insists its listeners hear the music with their souls, not merely their ears.
It's a winning combination and a key part of Kamloops Symphony Orchestra's first concert of the 2013-14 season.
"It's just a gorgeous piece," said KSO music director Bruce Dunn of the featured piece, Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18.
The popular concerto is one of three romantic-era works in the symphony's Sept. 28 concert, titled Russian Magic.
"If you're a passionate soul and you like melody and colour, how could you not love the romantics? It's the most colourful and the most lush and the most melodic," said Dunn.
KSO's program begins gently for the audience, starting with Mussorgsky's Prelude to Khovanschina (Dawn on the Moskva River), before unfolding the 35-minute Rachmaninov concerto with guest soloist Maxim Bernard on piano, and finishing with Rimsky-Korsakov's rousing Scheherazade Op. 35.
Audiences should find the entire program pleasing, but especially the concerto.
Sergei Rachmaninov (or Rachmaninoff, depending on your choice of spelling) composed the work in 1900 and it continues to be one of the most popular pieces of romantic-era music.
It is an emotionally stirring composition that ranks highly among musicians, too, because each section of the orchestra gets turns in the spotlight over the course of the three movements.
It is also a perfect composition to showcase Bernard.
"I finally got him," said Dunn, who has tried to book the Quebec pianist for about five years but kept running into scheduling conflicts with Bernard's studies and performance commitments.
Bernard is a much sought after soloist with a remarkable beginning in the business. He only began playing piano at the age of 13 but was quickly recognized for his ability.
Now in his 20s, he keeps a busy performance schedule that has seen him play for notable conductors such as Toronto Concert Orchestra's Kerry Stratton and former Québec Symphony Orchestra principal conductor Yoav Talmi (now with the Israel Chamber Orchestra).
That he only began playing piano at 13 my have worked in Bernard's favour, said Dunn.
"People start doing Suzuki piano at three and, sure, they've got lots of technique when they're 12 or something, but, you know, they really can't get into the music until they experience life a little bit," said Dunn.
"So, starting at age 13 doesn't seem, to me, to be a bad idea. . . . There's probably more who start later that we just don't know about."
As for KSO's season opener, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at Sagebrush Theatre, the plan is simple: start with the quietly delicate Mussorgsky prelude — "Don't wear them out on the first piece," as Dunn puts it —then finish big with Rimsky-Korsakov's suite.
"It's just a very lush, fabulous concert and the orchestra is sounding so good now," said Dunn.
"I think it should be a treat for everybody."
Tickets are $10 for youth and students, $24 for adults, and can be purchased through the Kamloops Live box office in the Pavilion Theatre, 1025 Lorrne St., Monday to Saturday, from noon to 6 p.m.
Tickets can also be purchased by phone at 250-374-5483 or online at kamloopslive.com.