SASO plays Rachmaninoff’s “Resurrection” second piano concert

Punch Howarth

SaddleBrooke’s Sheryll McManus will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor (m), that this writer labels his “resurrection,” with the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra with Linus Lerner returning to the podium. The reason for my descriptive label is that following a disastrous failure at the premier of his First Symphony, Rachmaninoff experienced a major episode of severe depression. Suffering a profound loss of self-confidence, he could neither compose nor perform as the world renowned piano soloist for a period of three years and not even a meeting with an encouraging Tolstoy could reduce his torpor. He underwent hypnosis treatment with Dr. Nikolay Dahl, a therapist using constant positive reinforcement; you can – you must -you will – compose a new concerto. Following many sessions he slowly began to play the piano and experiment with new ideas and eventually composed and performed the new C m Concerto and thus a great talent was not lost.

Performing the concerto will be Sheryll McManus, pianist with SASO, who is another retiree like several others living in SaddleBrooke. A long-time resident of Peru, Indiana, she lived in a historic mansion once owned by Cole Porter’s cousin which housed a piano Cole had played. She has performance degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and Southern Illinois University and she had a 20-year professional career as pianist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and also had a large piano studio there from which many of her students were prize winners. As a concerto soloist she has played Mendelssohn’s G m with Indianapolis, Schumann’s with the St Louis Symphony and Beethoven’s III and IV – Tchaikovsky First and Mozart No. 21 with other orchestras.

Sheryll started piano at age four, coming from a musical family, and she has two musical sons; one a cellist in the Philadelphia Orchestra and another is a violin maker craftsman. In high school she beat out Diana Ross for the lead in Kiss Me Kate by Porter. An interesting footnote is that Sheryll’s piano instructor for her masters was Ruth Slenczynska, a former student of Rachmaninoff.

Now on to Rachmaninoff’s C m opus. With his persona newly revived, he produces one of his greatest and most popular works. All three movements have interrelated themes with lots of major-minor key shifts. Movements two and three were composed first and were performed with great acceptance engendering a completion with a first movement.

The big tune in the concerto was arranged as a pop tune in 1945 as Full Moon and Empty Arms and has been recorded by many singers starting with Frank Sinatra in 1945 up to Bob Dylan in 2015.

Also on the program are American Salute by Morton Gould and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, the New World. Concerts will be performed on Sunday, January 31 in Oro Valley at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church at 3:00 p.m., in Green Valley on Friday, February 5 at Valley Presbyterian Church at 7:00 p.m. and on Saturday, February 6 at 7:30 p.m. at DesertView Performing Arts Auditorium in SaddleBrooke. For additional information go to