astoria festival weekend one recap

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Sergey Antonov performs Tchaikovsky at this year’s Astoria Music Festival.
Antonov photos: Sheryl Todd/Astoria Daily Photo [click to enlarge]

We had a lovely week of rehearsals and concerts for the first week of the Astoria Music Festival.  Last Friday’s concert was the opening concert with the Astoria Music Festival Orchestra under the direction of conductor Keith Clark.  The concert opened with Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony (the Italian).  The second half was taken up by highlights from Verdi’s great opera La Traviata.  The cast of leads, two from the Metropolitan Opera (baritone Richard Zeller and soprano Emily Pulley) and one from the Chicago Lyric Opera (tenor Mark Panuccio) all sang terrifically – showing world-class form.  Pulley’s climactic aria was especially hair-raising with its pyrotechnics, and Zeller’s beautiful bel canto singing was spectacular.

Saturday night’s concert featured the cellist Sergey Antonov performing Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations.  The Tchaikovsky Competition gold medal winner played with great elan and a sweet tone, and received a rapturous ovation from the audience.  He’s a cellist to watch – I would expect more high-profile appearances in the US in coming years.

The finale of the concert was a complete performance of Beethoven’s mighty Ninth Symphony, featuring the three singers from Friday night’s concert plus Met mezzo soprano Juliana Gondek and three northwest Oregon community choruses: the North Coast, Columbia and Cannon Beach Chorales.  All were especially impressive in their major choral portions of the last movement, filling the Liberty Theater with sound.  They were joined by the Astoria Academy Apprentice Vocal Artists.  Many curtain calls ensued after the triumphant ending, and the audience went out into the night convinced of the brotherhood of all men.

Sunday afternoon brought a reshuffled chamber program owing to the injury of the Astoria Chamber Players’ artistic director and pianist Cary Lewis while hiking in Montana the previous week (he hosted the program, arm in sling).

Sergey Antonov opened the program with the Prelude from the Bach First Suite for Solo Cello, and a west coast premiere of two recently discovered etudes for solo cello by the great Mstislav Rostropovich, which both gave the cellist a rigorous technical workout and charmed the audience with their wit and melody.  Next came one of Haydn’s London Trios for two flutes and cello – in this case the C major trio – performed by flutists David Buck and Jung-Wan Kang and cellist Heather Blackburn.  The three played with elegant precision and took a blistering tempo in the final movement that elicited astonished gasps from the audience.

Antonov and Buck returned to perform Heitor Villa Lobos’ Assobio a Játo (The Jet Whistle).  They gave a spirited and virtuosic performance – a meeting of two extraordinary artists that gave me a new appreciation for this unusual work.

The finale of the concert was a performance of the rarely-heard, but beautiful Second Quartet in A minor by Anton Arensky.  Scored for the unusual combination of violin, viola and two cellos, it was given a sensitive and moving performance by violinist Inés Voglar, violist Joël Belgique, and cellists Dorothy Lewis and Heather Blackburn.  Written as a memorial to his mentor and teacher Tchaikovsky, the first movement was evokative of the Russian Orthodox chorales, intoned by the deeply voiced cellos.  The second movement was a set of variations on a song (When Jesus Christ was but a Child, from 16 Children’s Songs, Op. 54) by Tchaikovsky, each growing more and more impassioned and complex until melting back into the opening chorale theme from the first movement.  It was a magical moment, beautifully played.  The final movement featured a Russian theme that has appeared in quite a few previous chamber works, most notably in the finale of Beethoven’s first Razumovsky Quartet, Op. 59 no. 1, and from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.  Notes flew everywhere with passion and precision, and left the audience on its feet.  A great performance which all came together from nowhere the previous Tuesday evening.

Take a look at some snapshots from the weekend here.

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