Italian pianist Fabio Bidini returns to the Tucson Symphony Orchestra for the first time since March 2007 to open the 2011-12 83rd season. He will  perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s melodic and much-loved Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Music director and conductor George Hanson, now celebrating his 16th season with the TSO, will be on the podium for the program, which also features the mesmerizing Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, the composer’s most famous work.

Performances are Friday, Oct. 14, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 16, at 2 p.m. at the Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., in Tucson.

The red carpet will be out and patronesses from the 54th Tucson Symphony Cotillion will be present to greet patrons when they arrive for both performances.

Hanson describes Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini as “a huge virtuoso work for piano and orchestra.”

“Fabio is a good friend who worked with me in Germany,” he continued. “He is one of the relatively small group of pianists with the physical chops to perform this. The famous tune from the Rhapsody will be infused with Fabio’s own romanticism.”

The New York Times has called Fabio Bidini’s playing “truly touching,” while the Sunday Patriot in Harrisburg, Penn., said his performance of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was “dignified and thrilling.”

“The technical display was a thrill,” the review continued. “Bidini shot off musical fireworks at the upper end of the keyboard with rhythmic precision while keeping a firm left hand in the lower register.”

Bidini was one of the youngest graduates ever of the prestigious Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, where he graduated magna cum laude.

After winning top prizes in the most famous international piano competitions, his sensational success at the Busoni and at the Van Cliburn international piano competition opened the doors to a constantly growing international career.

He is now recognized as one of the foremost young pianists to emerge from Italy.

His outstanding piano playing combines technical wizardry with poetic lyricism, earning him a glowing review for his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas in 1992.

Shortly after, he made his highly acclaimed North American debut with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under Joel Levi.

Bidini earned a prolonged standing ovation after his performances of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the TSO in 2007.

In its review, the daily newspaper said, “Bidini played with soulful passion that brought out Rachmaninoff’s romance with lush restraint.”

The upcoming concert will conclude with Hector Berlioz’s most famous work, Symphonie fantastique.

“It is one of the hardest pieces in the repertoire and one of the biggest challenges we will face all season,” noted Hanson. “This is only the second time the TSO has performed it.”

Tickets, starting at $22, are available online at, at the Tucson Symphony Orchestra box office, 2175 N. Sixth Ave., or by phone at 882-8585.

TSO box office hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Programming, artists and prices are subject to change.

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