Arkansas Philharmonic: From Russia with love

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 168 views 

BENTONVILLE — The Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra (APO) under the baton of Steven Byess, along with guest pianist Jeffrey Biegel and the University of Arkansas' Schola Cantorum and Master Chorale, both under the direction of Todd Prickett, will perform a program of Russian music at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (April 28) at Arend Arts Center in Bentonville.

The program will include Sergei Prokofiev's most-performed piano concerto, Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major plus Prokofiev's monumental cantata based on his score for the movie Alexander Nevsky. Russian Orthodox anthem "Salvation is Created" by Pavel Tchesnokov is also included in the program.

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel will join the orchestra for the Prokofiev concerto. An APO press release said Biegel, who is of Russian/Austrian heritage, was unable to hear or speak until the age of 3, when his condition was reversed by surgery. He has been hailed for his "electrifying technique and mesmerizing touch." 

In the 1990s, Biegel initiated the first live Internet recitals in New York and Amsterdam. He has performed with the Boston Pops, New York Pops, the American Symphony Orchestra, the Eastern Music Festival Orchestra, among others.  His recordings include A Steinway Christmas Album, Bach on a Steinway and Leroy Anderson's Concerto in C conducted by Leonard Slatkin with the BBC Concert Orchestra. In 2010, he performed two world premieres with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

Prokofiev, the composer, was born and educated in pre-Revolutionary Russia. After 10 years at the Conservatory of Music at Saint Petersburg, he left Russia for Western Europe. He traveled to the United States, where he performed for a dacade before returning to Europe. During this time he lived mostly in Paris, where he composed under the shadow of fellow expatriate Igor Stravinsky. Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto was completed in the summer of 1921, when he lived on the coast of France. He was the pianist on the first recording of his Third Piano Concerto.

Prokofiev returned to his Russian homeland in 1936 and set about composing a score for Sergei Eisenstein’s film Alexander Nevsky. The movie was banned by Stalin, so Prokofiev fashioned a cantata for chorus and orchestra based on his movie score. Later, Stalin lifted the ban and the movie gained international acclaim. Alexander Nevsky is usually included in the World's Best 100 Movies and Prokofiev's score is usually included in the World's Top 10 Movie Scores. Some critics maintain that it is the greatest movie score ever written. After World War II, Prokofiev fell victim to artistic restrictions of the cold war. He died in 1953.

Under the direction of Todd Prickett, the university’s Schola Cantorum and Master Chorale and alto soloist Janice Fulbright will join the Arkansas Philharmonic for the Alexander Nevsky performance.

Schola will also perform "Salvation is Created," one of a cycle of 10 Communion Hymns written for the Russian Orthodox Church by Pavel Tschesnokoff (sometimes translated Chesnokov).

After the Russian Revolution, composers were forbidden from writing or performing sacred works. Although "Salvation is Created" was written in 1912, it was not performed until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Since then, it has become the unofficial anthem of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Information and tickets can be found here.