Travel 'Somewhere in Time' with pianist Joyce Yang, the Grand Rapids Symphony, and Rachmaninoff's Paganini Variations

When Sergei Rachmaninoff composed his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a set of 24 variations for solo piano and orchestra, the Russian composer knew he had a hit on his hands.

He didn’t know it would become a launch pad for one of the most enduring “cult classic” films of all time.

The enchanting 18th variation in the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini sets the scene for the tragic love story, Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. The timeless movie, filmed in 1979 at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, takes a man back to the past to meet his destiny and the love of his life.

The Rachmaninoff melody, however, is more than the main theme for the 1980 film. The hauntingly beautiful strain plays an important role in the love story of a contemporary Chicago playwright and an English actress of yesteryear.

Remarkably, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini did the same for South Korean-born pianist Joyce Yang and her American husband.

In 2013, Yang, the Silver Medalist at the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition traveled to Birmingham for a performance with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. While she was there to play the Rachmaninoff Paganini Variations, she happened to meet Richard Cassarino, assistant principal bassist orchestra.

The rest is history. The couple were married this past August.

“Blame it on Rachmaninoff,” Yang said with a laugh to ArtsBHAM last fall.

Hear the magic the Yang creates with the popular work when she joins the Grand Rapids Symphony for performances on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 7-8, in DeVos Performance Hall.

Over the past 36 years, Somewhere in Time – which happens to be a favorite movie of Grand Rapids Symphony’s new Music Director Marcelo Lehninger – has risen to a level of a “Cult Classic.”

It’s one of only a handful of movies that boasts a fan club dedicated entirely to the film. Club members and fans regularly organize Somewhere in Time Weekends, dressing up in period attire to enjoy a glimpse of life in a time since passed.

Author Richard Matheson, who would go on to write the screenplays for such films as I Am Legend, was inspired to write an original story, Bid Time Return, after coming across a portrait of the celebrated actress, Maude Adams, in the Opera House in Virginia City, Nevada. Same as his fictional alter ego, Richard Collier, Matheson was curious enough to look into Adams history and discovered a series of mysterious facts surrounding the reclusive actress.

The film directed by Jeannot Szwarc also starred Christopher Plummer as Jane Seymour’s protector and Christopher Reeve’s nemesis. But the fourth star of Somewhere in Time was the Grand Hotel itself. Apart from its opening scenes, set in modern-day Chicago, nearly all of the Universal Film was shot on Mackinac Island, at the height of the 1979 summer season, filmed among vacationing guests and normal hotel operations.

Much of the rest was filmed in an empty and abandoned film studio, set up after World War II, to produce propaganda films. Named Mackinac College, it closed in the mid-1960s, but the building – production shops, warehouses, dressing and makeup rooms, and an enormous sound stage – all remained.

Nearly 40 years later, Somewhere in Time remains a perennially popular video rental. Though film composer John Barry, who died in 2011, would go on to score several films in the James Bond franchise including Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice, his soundtrack for Somewhere in Time remains his all-time best selling score.

The Grand Rapids Symphony, however, has more music than the Rachmaninoff in store for the second concerts of the 2016-17 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series

Guest conductor Perry So will be on the podium to conduct music from Eastern Europe including Antonín Dvořák’s Carnival Overture and Bedřich Smetana’s Overture to The Bartered Bride.

Perry So, who made his debut with the Grand Rapids Symphony last March, returns DeVos Hall to lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in music including Witold Lutosławski’s post-World War II Concerto for Orchestra.

Joyce Yang was just 19 years old and the youngest contestant at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition when she took home the Silver Medal plus two additional awards. That led to an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2010; a debut CD for Avie Records; and recitals in top concert halls and engagements with orchestras including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the United States, and internationally with orchestras including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Canada.

Earlier this year, Yang gave five performances of Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain with New York Philharmonic.

Perry So, a native of Hong Kong, who graduated from Yale University, has made multiple appearances at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He led the Hong Kong Philharmonic with pianist Lang Lang in an internationally televised celebration of the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.

For now, enjoy Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini as well as the rest of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Classical Series concerts, and travel back in time yourself.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 6:00 PM
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