Wilmington Symphony Orchestra
and pianist Rich Ridenour
March 19th, 8 p.m.
When Rich Ridenour sits down at the beautiful, shiny piano at Kenan Auditorium, people expecting to hear classical music may be in for a shock. On the surface, the polished tuxedo-clad musician certainly appears to fit the stereotypical classical-music-only mold. Surrounded by a symphony of other musicians, however, within minutes of any show, it is obvious that Ridenour is there to liven things up as he effortlessly hammers out flawless upbeat songs. His talent comes in perfect accompaniment to a daffy grin, making no mistake about it: He loves what he does. Ridenour will be shaking things up at Kenan Auditorium on Saturday, March 19th with Symphony Pops.
A Grand Rapids, Michigan, native and Juilliard School of Music graduate, Ridenour will be taking the stage with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra for a night of fun, music and laughter. Together, they will be presenting a program entitled “Great Movies, Grand Piano,” which entails Hollywood favorites from epic film scores such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Casablanca” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Ridenour is nationally renowned for his enchanting jazzy, rock ‘n’ roll and ragtime arrangements, peppered with his entertaining improvised antics. He recently shared with encore insight about his craft and upcoming show.
e: How did you first get into playing piano, and who influenced you?
RR: Mom forced me to take piano lessons when I was 8. Gosh, was that an influence or what? [I was] practicing—or pretending to—all by myself in the living room every day, where I could see the day go wasting by outside. Friends [were] playing kickball in the street while I was in a wigwam of John Thompson [piano books]. It didn’t make sense, at first—having to play in a recital on a warm spring day once a year. Nothing but girls dressed in their finest dresses on each side of me, waiting in line to play. And I had to brace a bowtie with nice slacks and was told to smile. I was lucky to have a teacher that let me play “Secret Agent” and “Peter Gunn.” I had an identity; know what I mean? Oh, and “Pink Panther!” Weird title, but a cool piece. Thank you for Henry Mancini and my understanding teacher.
e: You have gotten rave reviews for your performances all over the country. What would you say it is about your style that draws in so many audiences?
RR: Through theme concerts people experience many different things—everyone has different perspectives on music. I would say some commonality is that people remember exactly how they felt when they first heard some of this music, and it is often a memory that is awakened after years of being asleep. What a joy it is to hear something, and it is not only fresh and new, but renews images of a younger self, a place, a friend, maybe food … I’m hungry now.
I also program for all ages and tastes in music. I don’t take myself seriously and always have an attitude that this may be my last day on Earth. So, let’s party!
e: People really enjoy the fact that you manage to keep things humorous while performing. How are you able to do so?
RR: I don’t know. It’s not as easy as it looks, and sometimes funny things have come out of simple mistakes. I remember being so nervous [at a show] that I ran into the microphone stand, and it took nearly 20 seconds to save the mic from hitting the floor. People thought my Dick Van Dyke acrobat was part of the act. It wasn’t.
Last weekend I was in Owensboro, and the conductor was nowhere to be found at 7:30, the concert start time. I went out and asked the audience if anyone had seen the conductor, and proceeded to start the orchestra and play without him. He eventually showed up about 15 minutes later, a few tunes in to the concert. He thought that the concert was at 8 p.m. People thought it was an act. I was able to talk about my proctologist who got a little behind in his work, too. Let’s make it clear when this concert begins, it will all come out alright in the end.
e: What would you say is your favorite genre of music to play with an orchestra?
RR: I like it all and have challenged myself to arrange everything from jazz to classic rock, like Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.” I write most of my own arrangements that people will hear [at Kenan]. I love playing the classics, too: Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, etc.
e: There are many videos of you online, and along with your skills, the speed at which you can play the piano is beyond impressive. Over the years, piano rock a successful genre (i.e. The Fray, One Republic, etc.). Have you ever played as part of a band, or considered it? Or have you always preferred symphonies?
RR: I used to play in a rock band in high school and college. One of my trademarks was to stand on my head on the piano during [a rendition of Chuck Berry’s] “Johnny B. Goode” and pretend to play—ha! Sorry, folks, that will not happen since becoming a Steinway artist. That’s back when I was with Kimball.
e: What is the most challenging aspect of any performance?
RR: Getting the cellos to laugh at a joke. Trombones and tuba usually try to steal the show. Remembering to breathe the beautiful air and not worry about the critics.
For tickets, visit www.wilmingtonsymphony.org. All seating is reserved and tickets are $40.