Monterey Symphony Chamber Concert – Myriad Faces of Russia


Photo by John Wineglass

Anna Petrova, Rebecca Anderson & JeongHyoun Christine Lee

The Monterey Symphony Chamber Concert series continued last night at All Saints’ Church in Carmel with performances by the three soloists we will be hearing this coming weekend in the Monterey Symphony’s opening season program. What an excellent idea! The three young soloists: pianist Anna Petrova, violinist Rebecca Anderson and cellist JeongHyoun Christine Lee were already planning to be here to rehearse with the Monterey Symphony, so why not invite them to come a few days earlier and play a chamber music concert at All Saint’s Church.

Adding to the beauty of this concept, All Saints Church from September 25 to November 20 is the cite of an extraordinary exhibition, “Icons in Transformation,” in which in every available space in All Saints’ Church (and in Seccombe Hall) we can see examples of the contemporary artistry of Russian-born artist Ludmila Pawlowska. These are powerful images echoing traditional Russian Icons. Henri Matisse in a visit to Moscow in 1911 was so profoundly moved by viewing a collection of old Russian icons he wrote: “The artist’s soul emerges in these icons like a mystical flower … nowhere have I met such powerful expression, such feeling of mystery … everywhere luminosity and devotion.”

Listening to a deeply moving concert of Russian masterpieces in All Saints’ Church last night, members of the audience were also very likely to be profoundly moved as their eyes traveled from one to another of the powerful images. These beautifully displayed and illuminated images added a strong spiritual dimension to the concert.

Classical philologist and historian Arnold Toynbee argued that the Russian Cyrillic alphabet prevented the Renaissance and Reformation from having the same effect in Russia that it did in western Europe, so that Russia’s musical traditions continued to be strongly influenced by the medieval, liturgical, modal-sounding music of the Russian Orthodox Church up to the beginning of the twentieth century. This dark and modal quality in Russian music is so strong in the works of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, that many might argue that it truly defines the primal essence of much Russian music.

The three young musicians heard on last night’s program opened the program with Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne for Cello & Piano (an arrangement from his own Pulcinella Suite). We heard a full spectrum of emotions and musical colors in their playing that ranged from dance-like sections, lovely melodies (especially a beautiful cello solo by Lee in the Serenata movement), and the boisterous, high-voltage energy we heard throughout.

Todd Samra, in speaking to the audience commented that in 1950, Stravinsky was considered the great composer of the 20-century, but since that time Stravinsky’s prestige has waned as audiences began rediscovering Prokofiev, Shostakovich and surprisingly, Rachmaninoff. To this mix we need to add Anton Arensky, whose Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, was the great hit of the evening. Petrova, Lee and Anderson are remarkable musicians in that their magical playing has an “inevitable” quality about it — an inevitability that makes it difficult to imagine this piece being played any better, or even differently.

The Prokofiev Sonata No. 1 in F Minor for Violin and Piano as performed by pianist Petrova and violinist Anderson also exhibited this quality of precision, technical mastery and emotional expressive power. In this work both pianist Petrova and violinist Anderson exhibited a high degree for virtuosity as they emerged as equal partners and occasional soloists, but always superb ensemble partners.

This was sublime chamber music where all the components worked together — extraordinarily powerful and expressive playing, an amazing art exhibit, and the superb acoustics of All Saint’s Church. It should also be noted that the Steinway concert grand owned by All Saints’ Church sounded especially glorious last night — not only through the brilliant artistic playing of Anna Petrova, but also thanks to the fine tuning and maintenance by master piano technician Horace Greeley.

I regret that having to be up early the following morning I was unable to attend the post concert reception in Seccombe Hall, where I would have had an opportunity to see more of the Ludmila Pawlowska art exhibit and also to meet the new Rector of All Saints’ Church, The Reverend Amber Sturgess. She has only been in our community for a short while, but her influence in helping All Saints’ Church and the Monterey Symphony become partners in this new musical venture bodes well for the future of music on the Monterey Peninsula.


Archived in these categories: 20th Century, All Saints' Church, Chamber music, Monterey Symphony, Romantic Era.
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