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Breckenridge’s National Repertory Orchestra brings Russia to the Rockies

Benjamin Paul
Special to the Daily
On Saturday, July 11, the National Repertory Orchestra and guest conductor Daniel Hege will present the music of Russia’s greatest composers in a concert at Breckenridge’s Riverwalk Center.
Special to the Daily |

If you go

What: National Repertory Orchestra performs “Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich,” featuring guest conductor Daniel Hege

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 11

Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge

Cost: Tickets are $25 to $40, or $7 for youth 18 and younger

Program: “Romeo and Juliet Overture,” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, by Sergei Prokofiev; Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major, by Dmitri Shostakovich

More information: Call (970) 547-3100, or visit http://www.nromusic.com

On Saturday, July 11, the National Repertory Orchestra and guest conductor Daniel Hege will present the music of Russia’s greatest composers in a concert at Breckenridge’s Riverwalk Center. Hege has conducted orchestras from Syracuse to St. Petersburg and is currently the music director for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. He will lead NRO musicians through music by Russian masters Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich.

The concert begins with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture,” one of the Romantic composer’s most popular pieces. Tchaikovsky uses the unrestricted musical form of a fantasy in order to capture the dramatic power of Shakespeare’s great romantic tragedy. The tense opening gives way to Romeo and Juliet’s passionate love theme for woodwinds and strings. This famous theme captures the sense of emotional longing so well that it has been quoted in countless film soundtracks to represent star-crossed lovers.

While Tchaikovsky had the freedom to compose as he would like, Russia’s turbulent politics placed great pressure on later composers. Prokofiev and Shostakovich both had the misfortune to compose under Joseph Stalin’s authoritarian regime, which saw the arts exclusively as a propaganda tool and harshly punished free artistic expression.

However, Prokofiev did not have to worry about the nascent Stalin regime’s disapproval when composing his Violin Concerto No. 1. The composer was living abroad, and the concerto’s 1923 premiere took place at the Paris Opera. Technically demanding and emotionally nuanced, the concerto applies Prokofiev’s modern sensibilities to the Romantic musical language used by Tchaikovsky and other earlier composers.

“Prokofiev is a composer who makes great use of the colors of the orchestra,” said NRO co-concertmaster Victor Beyens, who will play the virtuosic solo part for violin. Beyens recently obtained a master’s degree in violin performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music. He is currently the acting concertmaster of the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra and a first violin section member of the Firelands Symphony.

Shostakovich had a particularly rocky relationship with the Soviet government, which wanted to parade his talent on the international stage but could not accept his artistic statements. The composer was forced to toe an unimaginably dangerous line in his music. A subtle hint of the minor mode in the finale of his powerful Fifth Symphony is seen by many critics as a life-risking act of subversion: It casts a shadow on what was supposed to be a celebration of Soviet greatness.

Shostakovich’s 1945 Ninth Symphony, the NRO’s final piece of the evening, is unapologetically joyous. Originally conceived as a monument to Russia’s hard-fought victory over Germany in World War II, the symphony does not provide the triumphant grandeur that the Soviet government had wanted.

“They wanted me to write a majestic ninth symphony,” wrote Shostakovich in his memoirs. “Everyone praised Stalin, and now I was supposed to join in this unholy affair.”

Instead, the composer gave his beleaguered people a symphony that was both a relieved smile for the end of war and a carefree, dancing celebration. The music’s joy is apolitical, and Shostakovich was punished for this defiance. The symphony was banned in 1948 and remained so until 1955, two years after Stalin’s death. Today, audiences can hear in the music the true artistic spirit of one of the 20th century’s most talented composers.

Mike Altenberg and Libby Bortz, Briar Rose Restaurant and the NRO Sustainers are the NRO’s sponsors for this concert. For tickets and more information, call (970) 547-3100 or visit http://www.nromusic.com.

Benjamin Paul is the marketing and public relations intern for the National Repertory Orchestra.


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