For a town this size, classical music lovers truly have it made. The list of performances runs long during the season, in halls the size of the Philharmonic Center to the Arts to church sanctuaries — sometimes four deep with concurrent concerts.
However, if there is something classical music junkies in Southwest Florida still lust after, it's diversity.
Which is why events such as this weekend's first-ever Naples Rachmaninoff Festival are so important. Presented by the Naples Music Club and Anne McLean, a Naples-based pianist, the two-day event will feature lectures, workshops and a robust sampling of lesser-known pieces from the beloved Russian composer.
"Big orchestras have to trade off marketing and ticket sales with innovative programs, I get and respect that," McLean said, "and that's why it's important to have smaller events like this where we can play the crème de la crème."
McLean moved to Naples from Orlando a year ago. After she became integrated into the Naples Music Club, she said she realized this small town had more than enough resources to host a major music festival.
McLean is a regular attendant at the Rachmaninoff Society's annual conference in Great Britain. She asked the society if she could hold a conference on this side of the pond. The group looked at weather predictions for Florida in February and heartily agreed to the idea.
When McLean realized that her longtime friend, reknown concert pianist and conductor Howard Shelley, was performing Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra the weekend of Feb. 14-16, she set the date and started planning.
"Howard is a friend, but it's exciting to have him speaking," said McLean. "But we also wanted to feature some of our best local pianists."
If you go
Naples Rachmaninoff Festival
What: Naples Music Club presents the Naples Rachmaninoff Festival, featuring two days of lectures and music.
When: 3 to 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, (broken into morning and afternoon sessions).
Where: Euro Pianos, 975 Imperial Golf Course Blvd., Naples
Details: Sessions cost $45-$50, depending on the session. For a complete list of performers and lecturers, visit www.naplesmusicclub.org/concerts
The 36-hour feast of all things Rachmaninoff kicks off on Friday afternoon with up-and-coming performer Michael Berkovsky performing both solo pieces and accompanying soprano Olivia McLean.
"He's a rising star, he really is," Anne McLean said of the Canadian-Israeli pianist. "His career is taking off; he's just about 30 at the very most, and we're just so lucky to have him."
Naples-based concert pianist Alexandra Carlson said she's most looking forward to hearing some of Rachmaninoff's rarely performed art songs.
Having done her undergraduate and graduate course work at St. Petersburg State Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in St. Petersburg, Russia — the same school Rachmaninoff attended — Carlson said she is excited to hear many live performances of the songs, which are rarely sung in the U.S.
"Often singers are scared of the language because it's a little difficult," she said, "but we're going to be doing these in the original language they were written in."
Saturday's lecture by Shelley certainly will be a high point. Shelley, who said he fell in love with Rachmaninoff's music at age 16, still occasionally sounds like a giddy schoolboy when he talks about the ace pianist and composer's work.
"I heard someone — one of my professors — play the Third Piano Concerto when I was 16 and I was absolutely knocked out by it," he said. "His work has every single human emotion in it. It's tinged with sadness and strength and tempered with vulnerability."
All of that will be on display this weekend. Shelley said he is looking forward to several of the other lecturers' presentations and the performance of Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata in G Minor. But he points specifically to David Cannata's talk, with the cheeky title of "Rachmaninoff's American Tour of 1901-1910: It's a Wonder He Came Back!"
"Those weren't the happiest of his years here, so that should be an interesting presentation," he said of the composer.
What's particularly neat about the first-ever Naples Rachmaninoff Festival is that it has been a true community effort.
When McLean asked the Naples Music Club to help her put on the event, club members stepped up in a big way, providing everything from organizational help to cash to offset costs and even opening up their homes to visiting artists.
"I'm not a solo act, that's for sure," McLean said. "If it wasn't for the Naples Music Club, and especially the board members, this wouldn't be happening at all."
Likewise, euro Pianos is hosting the event and providing all of the pianos for the event free of charge.
"It is just the most amazing generosity," McLean said.
And word about the festival is out, with rumor having it that Rachmaninoff's great-granddaughter Natalie Wanamaker Javier is planning to attend the festival.
From the way the program is shaping up, she'll be in for a treat. In fact, anyone who is ready for a break from classical music's "Top 40 Hits" will be in for a treat. And according to Shelley, even Rachmaninoff himself would approve of the programing.
"He's such a popular composer, and it was so frustrating to him in his time — and it's still the case — that just a few of his works, his 2nd Piano Concerto and his Prelude in C Sharp Minor, were the only thing audiences ever wanted to hear."
Neither of which made this weekend's shortlist.