|Eurasia Festival Opening Night Gala at Merkin Hall|
They came from Kyrgyzstan. They came from The Republic of Georgia. They came from the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russia, China, South Korea, and the United States of America. In the words of Aza Sydykov, it was "a triumph of art over politics". As described by pianist Jonathan Levin, it was "the most beautiful music that you've never heard". All true! The two pianists are co-founders of the Kyrgyz American Foundation, whose mission it is to preserve and promote the multicultural heritage of Eurasia with the United States.
Let us begin by honoring the contributions of Kyrgyzstan. We must start at the end of the concert because we witnessed the most remarkable performance by Omurgazy Uulu Zhyrgalbek performing with flying fingers and fluttering wrists on the Komuz and the Dombra. The former has three strings and no frets; it is made from a single piece of wood. The Dombra is a long-necked lute with two strings. The artist appeared in native dress and we urge you, dear reader, to take a look at the carousel of photos on our Facebook page (Voce di Meche). We are rarely in such awe. There were times when the melody came from the left hand and not the right one which was strumming as fast as a hummingbird's wing.
Another performance which dazzled us was that of the Ukrainian flutist Denis Savelyev, accompanied by Mr. Sydykov, performing "Nocturne" by Zhanna Kolodub. We had an epiphany when we realized how much the flute resembles the human voice. With impressive breath control Mr. Savelyev negotiated the ascending and descending scale passages. After a lovely legato central section marked by graceful phrasing, the first part returned with high drama.
He also performed Daniel Wood's "Valse Caprice" which had a graceful pastoral mood and reminded us of singers being "on the breath". He produces a lovely tone and can decrescendo to a delicate pianissimo. Not only were we impressed but our flutist companion also sat up and took notice.
Mr. Savelyev's younger sister Maria is a cellist who delighted us with "Melody" by Myroslav Skoryk, accompanied also by Mr. Sydykov. The piece was marked by a haunting and lyrical melody. Both of the aforementioned composers belong to the 20th c. but managed to avoid the deplorable trend of assassinating melody! She also performed in a trio, with Uzbekistan violinist Vartan Mayilyantz and Mr. Levin, selections from Kyrgyzstan's first ballet Cholpon, dating from 1944. The flavor of Mikhail Raukhverger's music was distinctively Eastern and we had a fine time imagining the choreography.
We also heard three singers. Chinese soprano Nilara Mutalifu, an ethnic Uighur, let her generous soprano soar in three lovely songs by three different composers. The Uighur language was totally strange to our ears but the sound was sizable and the emotions deeply felt. Accompanying her on the piano was Mr. Levin who also performed his own composition --an original piano arrangement on a Kyrgyz theme based on the sounds of the Dombra. It was a world premiere. He also played another world premiere--a virtuosic arrangement by Eric Thompson of a Milos Rosza composition. Mr. Rosza is famous for writing film scores.
South Korean tenor Choong Lee performed a pair of songs by Rachmaninoff--"Dream" and "Do not sing, my beauty". He was accompanied by Russian pianist Vera Danchenko-Stern and in the second piece was joined by Mr. Mayilyantz who played an arrangement by Fritz Kreisler in which the violin took over some of that haunting melody. Mr. Lee has an easy full-throated voice production and came across much better when he relaxed and became freer with his gestures. He has a beautiful pianissimo.
Also from South Korea, baritone Hyungjoo Eom performed two Korean songs. At last month's concert Around the World in Song, soprano Sulgi Cho explained that the "art song" did not exist in Korea until rather recently but Hak Jun Yoon wrote one called "Majoong" on the cusp of the 21st c. and Mr. Eom gave it a lovely performance, along with a charming and spirited folk song.
We were quite impressed with Kyrgyzstan clarinetist Bakhtiyar Dooranov who gave an expressive performance of two 20th c. pieces which gave a colorful line to the clarinet with some staccato in the upper register and some well executed runs. Mr. Levin had some rumbling figures on the piano.
Another clarinetist, the Georgian Marita Pataraia was accompanied by Georgian pianist Merab Ebralidze for a piece by Irakli Gejadze. The clarinet enjoyed some rapid scale passages whilst the piano got involved in some interesting figures.
Mr. Mayilyantz played a cheerful "Waltz-Scherzo" by Tchaikovsky which we'd never heard. We liked the pensive central section and the highly embellished return, much like a bel canto aria.
Georgian violinist Gvantsa Butskhiridze was joined by Georgian pianist Marina Ghurchumelia for a frisky "Scherzo" by Vaja Azarashvili which featured a lot of pizzicato.
Kyrgyzstan flutist Eliza Salibaeva was accompanied by Mr. Levin for yet another U.S. premiere of Kalyi Moldobasanov's expressive "Rondo-Scherzo" and Muratbek Begaliev's Asian flavored "Elegy".
We cannot recall another concert with so much variety and so much international cultural sharing. Mr. Sydakov was right. Art definitely trumps politics. Oh dear! Was that a slip? Well, we'll let it stand! Maybe art trumps Trump.
(c) meche kroop