Sergei Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, is one of the toughest works for a pianist to pull off. Consisting of 24 variations on the last of Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin, it's a nonstop 25 minutes of technical challenges that could give the original work — an equally virtuosic tour de force for the violinist — a run for its money. As soon as you hear the familiar theme, you know it, because it's been used in so many other forms, for so many purposes, that it's a staple of the collective musical consciousness. The 18th variation — an inversion of the main theme — is the most famous, and Rachmaninoff, knowing that would be the case, penned an unusual dedication: “This one is for my agent.” This week, in Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody, the brilliant young pianist Olga Kern, Russian gold medal winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition and an acclaimed interpreter of Rachmaninoff, gives the old 24 a whirl with the L.A. Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The program also includes Elliott Carter's celebratory Holiday Overture, written in 1944 in honor of the liberation of Paris during World War II, and Brahms' Symphony No. 4.

Thu., Aug. 25, 8 p.m., 2011

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