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The Russian National Orchestra comes to Beaver Creek

Sarah Dixon
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily
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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” More than 100 orchestra members will take the Vilar Performing Arts Center stage on Tuesday night as the Vilar hosts the Russian National Orchestra. Considered a musical treasure, the orchestra is on a 14-city tour that includes the Orchestra Hall in Chicago, the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco and the Lincoln Center in New York City.

The orchestra is the first, and one of the only independent, arts organizations in Moscow, unassociated with any government funding. They were the first Russian orchestra to perform at the Vatican and in Israel, and maintain an aggressive international touring schedule. They are also the first Russian orchestra to ever win the recording industry’s highest honor ” a Grammy Award for their 2004 recording of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” featuring the voices of Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and Sophia Loren.

Rick Walker, general counsel and international manager of the Russian National Orchestra, explained what sets the 100-member ensemble apart for the layman listener.

“There’s been a homogenization of orchestras around the world lately,” Walker said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to tell American from Russian from London-based or German; many orchestras out there are creating and producing a similar sound and style. RNO stands apart from that modern trend in maintaining a distinctive Russian sound.”

So what does this mean to the non-classical-trained ear?

“The audience will perceive virtuosity throughout the ranks of the players,” Walker said. “It’s an audible cohesiveness ” the audience can perceive the colors of the sounds that were originally constructed by the composer, in a way that brings out the subtle hues. It’s a velvety sound. There is no one section that overpowers another; they are in perfect balance, which produces an amazing depth of sound.”

The evening’s repertoire includes a very special piece of music ” Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, titled “Unfinished.”There’s a twist, though ” it’s finished.

“This is one of the most famous and recognizable pieces of music anywhere,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of speculation as to why Schubert didn’t finish this composition, but he died young and it’s just something he didn’t get to in his lifetime.”

The talented young Russian composer Anton Safronov gave the composition his interpretation of its logical conclusion. What could be more fascinating for a composer than building upon the genius of one of his greatest icons?

“I was drawn towards the idea of finishing ‘Unfinished’ by … the urge to take up and complete a song begun by someone else, but interrupted, especially as Schubert is one of the most loved and significant composers for me,” wrote Safronov.

“The orchestra performed (‘Unfinished’) in San Francisco. Wow. It was amazing,” Walker said. “The audience was very, very receptive to it. Maestro Jurowski has been championing this version, and has performed it with RNO in several countries. But the performance at the Vilar Center will be the second time it’s ever been played in America. So it’s fresh, and it’s a wonderful piece.”

The other feature on the evening’s repertoire is Brahms’ Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in D minor. This piece features the talent of soloist Stephen Hough, widely considered one of the most prolific pianists of his generation.

The work was inspired by the downward spiral of Brahms’ relationship with his greatest patrons and friends, Robert and Clara Schumann.

“The piece revolves around the triangle of emotion that existed between the couple and Brahms,” Walker said. “It’s a complex story, but the short version involves Robert losing his mind and going insane, and Brahms developing an infatuation with Clara, who was much older than him.”

Is the piece is emotional? Turbulent?

“It’s all those things and more,” Walker said. “It showcases his emotions with power and intensity.”

The piece showcases the talents of the orchestra, as well as Hough.

“It’s different than most concertos in that the orchestra plays a very prominent role,” Walker said. “They’re not a backup band to the soloist ” they’re on equal footing. Though you will really sense the genius of Stephen, you’ll also hear the balance and richness of the orchestra. The audience is going to have a real treat with this.”

Sarah Dixon is the marketing and public relations manager for the Vilar Peforming Arts Center. E-mail comments about this article to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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