Alexander Ghindin says he's a fan of the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff — but no more so than he's a fan of other great composers from Liszt to Schubert.

Alexander Ghindin says he's a fan of the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff — but no more so than he's a fan of other great composers from Liszt to Schubert.

"Pianists are very lucky," he says in a phone interview. "We are together with the best music ever written, much of which is for piano and orchestra together."

Ghindin will be the special guest of Conductor Arthur Shaw and the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra in a program to be performed around the Valley this weekend.

Concerts are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. A second concert will be presented at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave.; and another at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, at the Grants Pass High School Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St.

Ghindin will join the orchestra in performing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor. Also on the orchestra's program is Verdi's Overture to La forza del destino from the opera, and Hovhaness's Symphony No. 2, "Mysterious Mountain."

Ghindin became the youngest winner ever of Russia's famed International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1994, when he was just 17. Now 31, he's on a tour that will take him around the United States.

It's Ghindin's second American tour this season. The first was last fall. He lives in Moscow, where he grew up and studied, with his wife and the couple's 2-year-old son.

He says he loves living in Moscow, which he calls "one of the best cities of the world, like you have New York."

He says you have to be the best to survive in Moscow — perhaps the Russian equivalent of "if you can make it in New York..."

Comparing serious music in the United States to Russia, he says that there are more music lovers in America — "on the level of just fun, kind of playing the instrument."

He sees this as a mixed blessing.

"Here, people who love music are able to play," he says. "In our country, many people love music, but they don't play.

"We have this tradition. You either play professionally, or you don't play. You don't do it for fun. It's a tradition from the 19th century.

"You have a more democratic way. This is the big difference. It is good and bad."

The pianist attended two schools as a boy, one in English, the other a music school. He says the traditionally strong system of Russian music education is, like that in the States, going down hill.

"It's an absence of state support," he says.

He says he won't press his son to be a musician.

"I don't wish anybody to be a professional musician," he says. "It's a very difficult job. The way is long and difficult and full of unexpected turnings. It depends on talent and luck.

"If he's called, maybe it's his good luck — or bad luck."

The second piano concerto had its premiere with Rachmaninoff himself as the pianist in 1901. His first symphony, which debuted in 1897, was trashed by critics, although it's now considered a great work. Rachmaninoff was depressed in the debacle's wake, and it was the second concerto that confirmed his recovery. He even dedicated it to the doctor he'd been seeing.

La forza del destino was based on a Spanish drama and had its premiere in the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1862.

Alan Scott Hovhaness (1911-2000) was an Armenian-American composer credited with writing nearly 70 symphonies and 500 surviving works. He claimed to have burned at least 1,000 others. The symphony is often described as evoking a mood of reverence or contemplation.

Cost is $33 and $40 for the Ashland concert; $26 and $33 for the Medford concert; and $23 and $30 for the Grants Pass concert. Student tickets cost $5.

See rvsymphony.org or call the RVSO box office at 552-6398.