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Travel to Egypt with Saint-Saëns' Evocative and Virtuosic 5th Piano Concerto

The Nile River

Saint-Saëns' fifth and last piano concerto reflects his long career as a musician, composer and avid traveler.   WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on the concerto, nicknamed "The Egyptian."

When pianist Nicholas Angelich first heard Saint-Saëns' 5th piano concerto (played in concert by his former teacher), he fell in love with it. “It’s a kind of beauty which is not conventional, let’s say, in the harmonies and the writing, the whole exotic  inspiration ..." 

Angelich was in Philadelphia to play the concerto with The Philadelphia Orchestra, in a concert to be broadcast on Sunday June 17 at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1. 

He describes Saint-Saëns as a "complete musician," who explored many ways of making music. 

Pianist Nicholas Angelich talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about the music.

Born in 1835, Camille Saint-Saëns showed exceptional talent as a young child, went on to study  at the Paris conservatory, and became an accomplished organist, pianist, composer,  and conductor.  He loved to travel,  and  made many trips to the Middle East and Africa.  In writing about this concerto, he referenced songs he heard “sung by riverboat sailors on the Nile:”

“Harmonically, he’s exploring the piano sound in very very strange ways ... the harmonics and the overtones are incredible," says Angelich. "It’s very atmospheric.”

It's evocative music, he says, clearly written by an incredible virtuoso. "And his virtuosity is not just playing loud or fast, but it’s playing with a lot of style and imagination ... I think that’s perhaps the most important part of it." 

The Fifth Concerto premiered in Paris in 1896 with the composer at the keyboard, in a concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first public performance, at age 11.

The Philadelphia Orchestra performs Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 5 with soloist Nicholas Angelich on Sunday, June 17th at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1. 

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.