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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    ECSO shows solidarity with Ukraine at Garde concert

    The Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra warms up before its Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 concert at the Garde Arts Center in New London. (Lee Howard/The Day)
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    New London -- A soaring performance by Russian-born violinist Igor Pikayzen highlighted an Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra concert Saturday at the Garde Arts Center that featured two Ukrainian composers as the ECSO showed its solidarity with the democratic country currently under attack by unrelenting Russian bombing.

    "Prayer for the Ukraine" by Valentin Silvestrov kicked off the concert with a gentle, beautiful melody played with sweeping grace by the string section but a bit of wobble among the French horns.

    It may have been the only wobble of the night as the orchestra settled in to turn in its usual dynamic performance.

    The orchestra, largely masked except among the brass and woodwind sections, served as mainly the backdrop as the bald-headed Pikayzen took the stage to play the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77, a brooding, Stalin-era piece that wasn't premiered until after the former Russian leader's death. The composer had been denounced by the Soviet government for not writing the type of patriotic music Stalin preferred.

    Shostakovich's piece, full of angst and inner turmoil, was played with complete assurance by the ECSO and included several duets between the soloist and orchestra members that came off perfectly.

    Pikayzen, winner of two international violin competitions, was outstanding throughout, but he truly killed the cadenza at the end of the third movement and earned a long standing ovation.It seemed improbable that he would have any energy left to play an encore, but he tossed in another long solo in which he made his instrument sound like three violins thanks to his lightning quick hands and nimbleness around the neck of his instrument.

    Another Ukrainian composer, Myroslav Skoryk, who died just two years ago, launched the orchestra's performance after intermission. His piece "Melody" was composed for a 1978 film about the Soviet Union during World War II, and in the hands of conductor Toshiyuki Shimada and the ECSO it sounded like a sultry summer day and flowed on the winds of a gorgeous tune that has become known as the spiritual hymn of Ukraine.

    The concert ended with Sibelius' Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105, a piece in one long movement that Shimada noted was dedicated to the Finnish composer's spouse. Shimada amusingly noted that he knows of many women composers but no instance of them dedicating a theme to their husbands.

    The 1924 symphony featured strong work in the ECSO's string and brass sections. The melody came on the shoulders of the trombones, who had to blast through a rather thick stew of sound to make their presence gloriously heard.

    Meanwhile, stabbing string runs and accents perfectly timed, along with a dancing section among the violas contributed to the edgy and lush atmosphere that ended with perfectly timed understatement. Throughout the piece, Shimada held the players together through changes in tempo and dynamics in a well-crafted and dramatic performance of Sibelius' final published symphony.

    l.howard@thday.com

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