There was a time when French pianist Pascal Roge had to sneak Saint-Saens’ fifth piano concerto on to the program “against the promoter’s will.”
Everybody wanted Saint-Saens’ second piano concert, the French composer’s most popular. But Roge would win them over with his playing.
“Once they heard the number five, they realized this is a great music,” he said by phone from his home in Switzerland.
Roge is the guest of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Robert Moody, at Tuesday’s season-closing concert at Merrill Auditorium. The program features music with a French theme: Gershwin’s love song for a city, “An American in Paris,” two pieces by Ravel and Saint-Saens’ concerto no. 5, also known as “The Egyptian.” Roge will accompany the orchestra for the piano concerto.
This music is among Saint-Saens’ most evocative. He wrote it in 1896 while vacationing in Egypt. It has Middle Eastern and Spanish influences, Roge said.
“It’s very exotic, and at the same time so attractive to the audience,” he said.
Roge is a third-generation French musician who has mastered his country’s piano repertoire. He enrolled at the Paris Conservatory when he was 11, and at 18 was playing solo recitals in Paris and London. He won first place at an international piano competition in 1971, which lead to his first U.S. tour in 1974. French piano music has always been his specialty.
“The beauty of French music, it is music you can always put different sounds to, different character in it. I feel very at home with this music. I was born with it, played it since my youth,” he said. “I breathe with the music, almost like I was a composer myself. I feel great freedom and great liberty when I play this music.”
He performs around the world, operating from his home in a small village in the French part of Switzerland. He and his wife lived previously in Geneva and New York, and decided to trade city life for the country. Roge’s 2014 schedule includes concerts in Japan, Hong Kong, the United States and across Europe.
“I live a very different lifestyle than most people. I see the world and play music, and I feel very privileged for what I do,” he said. Roge knows Montreal and Boston well, but has never performed in Portland. His wife will travel with him, and they plan to spend time in Maine after the concert.
“I have heard it’s a beautiful area,” he said. “We’re planning to stay a week after the concert to enjoy the area and eat good seafood and just be there. I have a few days off, and I like to not rush home and just enjoy being there and discover another part of the country I do not know.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 17
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $31 to $81; porttix.com or 842-0800