I would like to play this with my high school orchestra (with me as piano), and I was wondering how difficult the orchestra part of this concerto is. Would a typical high school orchestra be able to perform it?

If you are an orchestra member or conductor that has played this piece, can you please describe the experience?

What about the other Rach Concertos? Are they easier for orchestra?

  • 2
    Get a piano reduction of the orchestra part and someone in the high school orchestra can almost certainly play it. This is how I played piano concerto movements back when my piano teachers had me participate in piano contests (heck, before I turned 13)--my teacher would play the orchestra reduction and I would play the solo piano part.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 13:30
  • Here's the two-piano score at the IMSLP: imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/105599/hfqr
    – pr1268
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 17:14

3 Answers 3


I just listened to the whole thing with the score.

The biggest thing that would worry me is how exposed all of the woodwinds and brass are throughout. Almost every instrument has completely exposed solos, so you need strong players in every single section. This is the kind of thing where practicing only takes you so far, you need to be at a certain level of instrumental mastery for it to be a reasonable undertaking.

The trumpet part is pretty hard in spots, and I might not expect a high school level player to be able to play it with any consistency. In particular, the trumpet solo at rehearsal 4 in the first movement, and the triplet fanfares throughout the third (such as at rehearsal 42).

There are some individual nasty measures for upper woodwinds and strings sprinkled around, but I would expect high-level high school players to be able to work them out given the length of a typical high school concert cycle.

Overall verdict: If it's a really good high school orchestra, it's doable, possibly with hiring a ringer for Trumpet 1. Otherwise it would scare me.

  • 1
    As a general rule, and since it's not something the OP might be aware of: most orchestral pieces are written for one player per part in the woodwinds and brass. This means that exposed solo woodwind & brass parts are pretty much de rigeur, especially in the mid- to late Romantic period. Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 17:32
  • Do you think the other Rach concertos are easier for the orchestra?
    – D.R.
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 17:41
  • 1
    @D.R. without having looking at them in depth, I suspect they're probably about the same.
    – MattPutnam
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 18:35

Depends on your high school orchestra. Obviously, unless they had the required instrumentation you wouldn't even be asking! But what level are they at? Do they struggle with a Mozart symphony, can they enjoy playing a Tchaikovsky one? The strings need to be pretty agile to cope with this sort of thing. Maybe more suited to an area Youth Orchestra than a single school.

But if your school has a soloist capable of the Rach., I'm sure they'd love to display his talents! How about stiffening the school orchestra with a second pianist covering the piano reduction part? Maybe just helping the strings out on a synth (with a nice fast-attack string orchestra patch)?

  • 1
    In addition, full instrumentation is often hard to come by in high school ensembles. The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, and 2 trumpets (plus strings and timpani). If the ensemble doesn't have all of these in the orchestra this year (I'd be particularly worried about horns & bassoons, at the high school level), or if they're not particularly strong players, the director will have to do some creative re-scoring to make sure that all the parts are covered. Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 16:02

I performed both the 2nd and 3rd Concertoes and I must tell you the Rach 3 is a whole different level of difficulty for the orchestra.

Not only is the writing much more complex in the woodwinds and brass but it's incredibly difficult to for a conductor to follow the soloist. There's so much give and take.

Beyond that, though the 3rd is much more soloistically written then the 2nd, the conductor sets every tempo and tempo change! If your conductor doesn't hit it just right, you're screwed!

Rachmaninoff told Horowitz not to expect too many successful performances of the 3rd concerto for these reasons. I played the 3rd with an orchestra from a relatively large city and 3 different universities. The universities all had very good music departments. It wasn't until my last performance that I was happy with the orchestral playing and I learned afterwards that this orchestra was supplemented with several professional musicians. The 2nd concerto is much more doable and I think it's comparitivly difficult as far as the piano part. Unless you have a deathwish, stay away from playing the 3rd until you're with some pros.

  • Thank you for your response. Your advice will be taken to heart!
    – D.R.
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 2:42

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