7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21 – College-Conservatory of Music, Cincinnati, OH

Concert Orchestra – Aik Khai Pung, music director

Rick van Matre, saxophone

Piotr Szewczyk: Concerto for Saxophone, To Those Who Protect –  World premiere

Witold Lutoslawski: Symphonic Variations

Grazyna Bacewicz: Divertimento

Igor Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919 version)

Were it not for the adverse circumstances of the life of Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski coupled to the vicissitudes of his beloved country, the music of this giant might have gone unnoticed just as that of so many works by Eastern-European composers whose works have escaped the acclaim they deserve.

Having survived the political persecution of his family and avoided capture by the Germans in both WWI and WWII, in addition to having endured the idiocy and rigors of censorship in Communist Poland, Lutosławski emerged triumphant in both his personal and professional lives coincidentally with the triumph of Solidarność in June of 1989 and the peaceful fall of Communism in Poland.

Upon his quiet death in 1994 Witold Lutosławski finally received long overdue recognition in his native country, in Europe and in America.

Lutosławski’s Symphonic Variations is one of his better-known compositions: a brief theme and variations for orchestra that inventively mines the familiar Dies Irae with a rich orchestration underpinned by hard-driven rhythms.

With Grażyna Bacewicz’ 1965 slightly atonal Divertimento for strings the multi-faceted Aik Khai Pung obtained precise work from his young orchestra.

Polish-born violinist and composer Piotr Szewczyk has been a member of the Jacksonville Symphony first violin section since 2007. Dr. Szewczyk holds the degrees of D.M. from Florida State University, and both a B.M. and a double M.M. in violin and composition from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Szewczyk’s Concerto for Saxophone (To Those Who Protect) received its world premiere with the sterling Rick Van Matre as soloist, aided all along by Aik Khai Pung’s incisive conducting.

Van Matre brought to his mercurial playing of Szewczyk’s composition both exceptional technique, impeccable musicality, and a boldness ideally suited to Szewczyk’s inventive composition. The rear display of the tempestuousness of the ocean in an impressive triptych by Anna Van Matre offered a powerful commentary on the music.

Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes was just starting its residence in Paris for the 1910 season, when the Russian impresario commissioned the still-unknown Igor Stravinsky to provide the music for a new ballet with a scenario by Fokine.

The storyof the evil Kastchei and the miraculous Firebird whose feathers flicker and flame, along with that of Prince Ivan, the hero who destroys Kastchei with the aid of the Firebird, caught the imagination of Stravinsky, who delivered a marvelous score in a matter of weeks.

The 1919 suite reduces the playing time of the ballet to concert length, while retaining the must-keep Infernal Dance, the Lullaby, and the closing Greeting to the Rising Sun, in Stravinsky’s original orchestration.

Aik Khai Pung led the young players of the CCM Concert Orchestra in a superb performance enhanced with the fathoms deep sound of the unison cellos and basses, the nice filigree work of the woodwinds, the clarion sound of the brass, and the razor-sharp attacks of the strings, all the while unfazed by the constantly changing time signatures.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

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