Tidewater's Versatile Music-Maker Andrey Kasparov

      "Pianist Andrey Kasparov will dazzle you with the mighty Second Piano Concerto of Prokofiev" reads the schedule for the Virginia Beach Symphony for October 12 this fall. In a recent performance in Norfolk he also dazzled us in a sonata by Haydn and Mili Balakriev's (1837-1910) Islamey Oriental Fantasy . Dr. Kasparov travels often to perform as a pianist, both in the US and abroad.

      Last season we were privileged to hear several of Dr. Kasparov's own piano compositions. These accomplished, technically difficult pieces place him on the cutting edge of modern composers in the world today. The evidence: In 1997 he won a prize at the Sergei Prokofiev International Composition Competition in Moscow, in 1998 the Orléans (France) International Piano Competition for 20th Century Music and in 1985 and 1987 a prize from the all U.S.S.R. Composition Competition. In the United States he received an Indiana Arts Commission Fellowship and a grant from the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music. Dr. Kasparov has recently been chosen to be profiled in the 2004 edition of Marquis Who's Who in America, the annual biographical directory of leading innovators in most major fields of interest including business, politics, medicine, law, art, education, entertainment and religion.

      His third accomplishment and the focus of this review is his major role in bringing contemporary music to our region as conductor and founder of Creo, Old Dominion University's Contemporary Music Ensemble. Season after season Andrey Kasparov presents Tidewater with the opportunity to hear music composed in the second half of the twentieth century through today. Music from Argentina, Armenia, Canada, Holland, Latvia, Russia, Serbia and the United States has been presented in Tidewater in high quality performances since 1998. The Virginia Commission for the Arts has selected Creo for inclusion in its upcoming roster of performing artists and ensembles. In addition to being listed in the Commission's 2004-2005 directory, the group will also receive a matching grant of up to 50 percent of their presenter fees for any tours in the state of Virginia.

      In a recent interview I asked Dr. Kasparov how he got involved with contemporary music. "My interest in contemporary music started naturally at a very early age. I began composing at age eight." Who encouraged you? "The friends of my family were very established musicians, and they had an impact on me. My aunt is a renowned musicologist and she had a big role in encouraging my interest in contemporary art in general, and music in particular." What goals do you have for your work at ODU? "To turn ODU's Music Department into one of the most prestigious presenters of contemporary music in the United States."

      This dream is a large one but very possible considering the quality of performances by Creo, the quality of musicians he attracts, the support of a core of listeners who are interested in experiencing new and sometimes challenging repertory.

      Andrey Kasparov was born in Azerbaijan to a family of Armenian descent. He began his musical studies at age six and began composing at age eight. At fifteen he moved to Moscow where he graduated with honors in music composition (1989) and piano (1990) from the Moscow State Conservatory. At Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington he received his doctorate in composition. In 1996 he participated in courses for new music in Darmstadt. His compositions have been performed in Moscow, New York, Paris, Ottawa, Chicago, Cleveland, San Fransisco and many other cities.

The Main Event: New Music Performances

      On Sunday, June 8, 2003 at Chandler Hall, Diehn Fine and Performing Arts Center, the audience was treated to live performance of music drawn from the library of compositions housed in the Diehn Composers Room at ODU where Anna Gordon is Consultant. All scores were created after 1970 by active living composers, all of whom were in the audience to hear their works performed as part of this very special program.

      The New Music Performance Collection serves music faculty members who incorporate new music into their teaching. The goal is to provide new music for students to study and perform. Certainly students should be brought into an understanding that music is an ongoing creation and not only museum pieces of western musical history. Anna Gordon is the Diehn Composers Room Consultant and can be reached by phone at (757) 683-4175. For more information about the project go to music

      This program was selected from compositions in the collection for accomplished professional performers - works the students have available for study but which they may not be able to perform. All performers were professional musicians for this very special event.

      The program opened with the fine playing of Laurie Baefsky on flute in Mike McFerron's Stationary Fronts (1999) for amplified flute and tape. Ms. Baefsky played line accompanied by tape using recorded samples of a flute session with Thomas Clement (to whom the piece was dedicated) in the home studio of the composer in Kansas City, Missouri. Dr. McFerron (b.1970) is an assistant professor of music and composer-in-residence at Lewis University in the Chicago area. He founded and co-directs Electronic Music Midwest, a festival of electronic music at Lewis. A prize-winning composer, he was the 2001 recipient of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's "First Hearing" Program.

      Andrey Kasparov's piano mastery was displayed in a composition for solo piano, Fleeting Visions (2000) by Timothy Melbinger (b.1968). The piece is constructed of twenty short diverse movements ranging in length form 20 seconds to a few minutes. The composer kept a running list of gestural, registral and rhythmic ideas to consciously avoid duplicating them. The piece was extremely challenging to the pianist and audience because the shifts in mood were indeed fleeting. A few examples: "Agigtato sempre - very intense with clusters of low notes;" "Pesante - steady rhythm in left hand, 45 seconds, dark mood;" "Semplice - as if slightly too slow movie sound track;" "Capriccioso - Ives was the music's grandfather." The composer lives with his wife and cats in Natick, Massachusetts where he is a pianist and teacher, currently at Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth.

      The third selection on the program was a hauntingly beautiful piece Snow Night (1977) written by Jan Krzywicki (b.1948) and masterfully performed by Oksana Lutsyshyn, piano and David Walker, marimba. Snow Night had as a starting point a picture postcard of a Yugoslavian village at night. Thoughts turn to "dreaming back" mixing memory and fantasy. Mr.Krzywicki has written "...trees draped by snow stand hauntingly silent. No sound stirs but the occasional sweep of icy wind that blows up snow like echo memories of the snowstorm that has passed." The music returns to a transfigured view of the opening scene at the end. The composer is a member of the music theory department at Temple University in Philadelphia.

      Frances Thompson McKay's chamber orchestra piece for eight players, Rites of Passage, (1987), was inspired by a newspaper series on the James River and images as the river passes through Virginia on its way to the Chesapeake Bay. A flute solo opens the piece played by Melissa Sinda, evoking the sense of flow of the water. This water theme represented by various solo and groups of instruments conducted by Andrey Kasparov, also evoked life along the river. Rites of Passage was first played in 1987 in "Music of the Spheres", a concert series that focused on improvisation at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to celebrate the continuing efforts to save the Chesapeake Bay. The piece was revised in 2003. Dr. McKay is a graduate of Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and currently teaches at the Levine School of Music.

      Alicyn Warren's Molly (1998) for digital video is a complex essay using verbal, musical and visual elements in a montage on love, aging and death and the decisions we all must face. This carefully crafted piece explores the composer's interest in the interaction of sound and moving visual images. Molly is a border collie. When we choose to love a dog whose life span is relatively short we also set ourselves up for loss. Layering this prize-winning work with family photographs and documents from her girlhood, memories of another border collie who was run over, and the death of her mother from cancer two years before that all build to tell her personal story very powerfully. To live ignoring possible loss every moment is a precious and good thing. Dr. Warren (b.1956) holds a Doctorate from Columbia University.

      With our art song orientation, we found Frank Felice's (b.1961) crisp, sparkling and intriguing use of the human voice in his choral pieces a high point of this program. In three poems by Tara Lynn Smith (née Ericksen) Dr. Felice expresses his love for autumn in exciting settings called Autumn Portraits. Composed in 1984, his first choral piece What is Beauty but a Breath was written for his senior recital for the renowned Concordia Choir. The layered sound was set as an English madrigal of the 14th century.

      The text of the third setting Heiligenstadt is a little poem written by Beethoven and translated and adapted by the composer. The beauty of the setting and the incredible sadness of the text combine to make a very moving experience.

      Frank Felice grew-up in Montana. His participation in a number of rock bands led to his interest in composition. He studied at Concordia College in Minnesota, the University of Colorado and Butler University. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota in 1998.

      Brian Robinson (b.1964) is active in the Boston area and currently teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His piece Charmonium for harpsichord and chamber orchestra was well served by the precise playing of Oksana Lutsyshyn and the orchestra of fourteen of Tidewater's finest musicians conducted by Andrey Kasparov. The title is from particle physics. At times chunks, and at other times fragments of sound open into a propulsive soundscape with exciting collisions. There are nearly tonal relaxed musical interludes. Do all of these fun building blocks of sound actually create their own universe? For this listener the answer is yes, at least until the final "ting" of the harpsichord. The lid of the harpsichord hid the conductor but his ability to hold this complex piece together was never in doubt.

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