News & Reviews

Reading Eagle, Weekend Section, Thursday, May 17, 2012, p. 16, Cover Story

For RSO’s ‘Audience Choice,’

The Wyomissing native, who will join the Reading Symphony Orchestra for Saturday night’s season finale, is a master at chess and the Chinese board game go, a 3-handicap golfer and has also been known to dabble in piano.

By Susan L. Peña, Reading Eagle Correspondent

Throughout the Reading Symphony Orchestra season, audiences have been asked to vote, first on composers, then on specific pieces to make up the final program on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Sovereign Performing Arts Center.

This ‘Audience Choice’ concert, conducted by RSO music director Andrew Constantine, will begin with "Hoedown" from American composer Aaron Copland’s ballet “Rodeo,” followed by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in D minor, performed by guest artist and Wyomissing native Matthew Bengtson.

The second half of the concert will be devoted to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor.

Bengtson, who has performed often in this area, including previous guest appearances with the RSO, was notified in late February that he was being offered either the Rachmaninoff Concerto or the same composer’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” to be played in the May concert.

“It was a surprise call,” he said in a recent telephone interview from his home near Philadelphia. “I rarely play concertos.”

He was happy with the final choice, since he has known the piece “forever,” having played it in the two-piano version while in graduate school at Peabody Conservatory.

This will be the first time he has played it with an orchestra, and he said he’s looking forward to the experience.

‘The RSO has performed it so many times, so they know it very well,’ he said.

Bengtson, a graduate of the Hill School in Pottstown, began his musical studies during his childhood, then earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and compter science at Harvard University, while continuing to study piano with Patricia Zander. He also studied contemporary piano literature with Stephen Drury and chamber music and performance practice with Robert Levin.

He then earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in piano performance from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, studying piano with Ann Schein and harpsichord with Webb Wiggins.

On a fellowship at Cornell University, he studied fortepiano (an early version of the piano) with Malcolm Bilson. He has become something of an early-music specialist, although he continues to concertize on the modern piano.

Bengtson is also an advocate of contemporary music, and also specializes in the music of Russian early-20th-century composer Alexander Scriabin, and late Romantic Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, whose music he has recorded.

In addition to his successful performance career, Bengtson teaches privately at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. He typically has 12 to 15 students at one time.

Bengtson said he made eight trips to Pittsburgh during the fall semester in 2011 as a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and he recently recorded a CD of the music of Albeniz, Mendelssohn and Chopin. He is planning to record music music of Szymanowski and Scriabin.

In addition to his musical projects, Bengtson reads Latin and Greek, is a 3-handicap golfer, a dan-level go player and a Chess FIDE (Federation Internationale des Echecs, or World Chess Federation) master.

Go is a board game that originated in China more than 2,000 years ago; it has simple rules involving black and white stones, but requires intense strategy. A ‘dan’ level is considered a master rank.

Lately, he said, he has less time for these activities, since he and his wife have a 2-year-old girl, Linnea, and are expecting a boy in late July.

‘I still play go online,’ he said, ‘but no more tournaments.’