Tanya Gabrielian is passionate about community engagement, education and activism through art

SAN LUIS OBISPO — The Cal Poly Symphony returns to performing live for an in-person audience for its fall concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, in Miossi Hall in the Performing Arts Center’s Christopher Cohan Center. 

For the concert, titled “Gabrielian Plays Shostakovich,” the symphony welcomes guest soloist Tanya Gabrielian, hailed by the London Times as “a pianist of powerful physical and imaginative muscle,” to perform Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2. An acclaimed soloist, Gabrielian has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Boston Pops, among others.

In addition to performing internationally, Gabrielian is passionate about community engagement, education and activism through art. She has collaborated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in programs highlighting the stigma around mental health issues and with other artists in multidisciplinary projects that have earned her international recognition.


The symphony’s program will feature composers with mental illness, beginning with Sergei Rachmaninoff, who suffered from depression. After one particularly dismal period precipitated by a failed premiere, he could only return to composing with the help of his therapist, Nikolai Dahl. The group will play Rachmaninoff’s haunting “Vocalise” in an arrangement for full orchestra by the composer.

The program will continue with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy,” based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Tchaikovsky, who experienced extreme cycles of depression and productivity, struggled with the composition of this work. With the help of Mily Balakirev, it underwent several revisions, from its disappointing first performance to eventual success.

After intermission, Gabrielian will play Robert Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22. Schumann, who suffered from bipolar disorder and delusional visions, attempted suicide and was admitted at his own request to a mental asylum, where he died without recovering. This sonata was composed between 1830 and 1838 and is the most performed of his piano sonatas. Clara Schumann, the composer’s wife, and a virtuoso pianist wrote to her husband in 1838, “I am endlessly looking forward to the second sonata. Your whole being is so clearly expressed in it.”

The concert will conclude with a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op.102. The concerto, written four years after the death of Joseph Stalin, was a birthday present for the composer’s 19-year-old son, Maxim. Unlike the tense, angst-ridden music that Shostakovich is known for, this piece revels in playful humor, poignant simplicity, and inside jokes only father and son would understand.

Tickets are $15 and $20 for the public, and $10 for students. Event parking is sponsored by the PAC. Tickets are available at the Cal Poly Ticket Office between noon and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. To order by phone, call 805-SLO-4TIX (805-756-4849).

The concert is sponsored by Cal Poly’s Music Department, College of Liberal Arts and Instructionally Related Activities program. For more information, call the Music Department at 805-756-2406 or visit its calendar website.