Russian club brings students to symphony

Oregon Symphony performed Tchaikovsky’s fifth, Sibelius, modern work to honor Finno-Ugric culture

ON JAN. 30, the Russian club offered another unique experience to share with the Lewis & Clark community. The club took students to Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony at the Oregon Symphony. 

The performance took place at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, one of the most famous concert halls in Portland, recognizable by its majestic lighted Portland sign. The show lasted for one hour and 40 minutes. The evening featured in the first part the “Nordic Splendors” from Finland and Estonia. In the second part, the orchestra put forward Tchaikovsky, the eternal musical heart of Russia. 

In an homage to Finno-Ugric culture, the show began with Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia” Op. 26. Written in 1899 and originally called “Finland awakes,” this masterpiece was written in support of Finland’s prolonged struggle for independence from Russian occupation. This hymn-like melody is an impassioned cry of freedom that is still relevant today: On July 5, Finland and Sweden applied to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in order to defend their sovereignty from potential Russian attack.

This hymn was followed by the world premiere performance of Erkki-Sven Tuur’s Violin Concerto No.3 “Konelused Tundmatuga” (Conversations With the Unknown), composed between 2019 and 2020. LC students had the chance to see Tuur introduce his work on stage and to greet him at intermission.

 Internationally renowned violinist Vadim Gluzman played the piece’s virtuosic solo, transporting the listener into a world where layers of sound stimulated all the senses. 

The interest of this performance relied on not only the modernity, but also the nationality of the piece. Tuur was leader of the Estonian rock group “Spe” during perestroika, a massive political reform launched by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late ’80s in order to transform the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). To this day, his work is still intimately linked to the long history between Russia and the Baltic countries. 

After an intermission, the second part of the night and the highlight of the show finally happened: the orchestra majestically played Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op. 64. Composed in 1888, this monument is a tormented melody written during a period of self-doubt. What impresses most are waves of melodic walls of sound that follow each other, repeat themselves and come sliding on the audience. This magic is carried by the movements of the amazing maestro, David Danzmayr, literally possessed by his music. His almost hypnotic baton allowed a total and sensational immersion. 

The applause was triumphant. When leaving the concert hall, everyone had commentary. Most preferred the classical sound of the 19th century compositions to Tuur’s modern concerto, so the reception of the modern performance was more subdued. 

One thing is certain, all the students found Tchaikovsky’s symphony breathtaking. The Russian composer embodies the musical hearth of Russia and masterfully evokes different emotions. 

For Aleksander Veselkov, Russian language assistant, Tchaikovsky is a part of his childhood. 

“I’m proud that I was born in the same region. I lived in St. Petersburg, and he also lived in St. Petersburg, and I visited his grave,” he said. 

This experience gave him a feeling political nostalgia. 

“It brings me back to the time of Tzar Russia, how everything was beautiful about royalty,” Veselkov said. 

“Every time I go to the symphony and I listen to something like that, especially in such a beautiful setting, it brings me back in time to the Tzar Russia, to like the good old time before the revolution and all this bullshit that happened after. And I think of how everything was beautiful about royalty and all this stuff, it makes me feel so good,” he continued.

For others, the symphony was a way of discovering or rediscovering Tchaikovsky. By taking more than 40 people to the show, the Russian club succeeded in the double challenge of promoting Russian culture and democratizing concert music for LC students. 

Communication, hard-working staff and especially the $10 price of tickets are the ingredients for this success. 

“(Students) will go three to four times with $10 and they will love it, then they will come on their own, … This is definitely a democratization of culture” Veselkov said.

The club will continue its pursuit of these objectives through the sale of discounted tickets to two more shows: “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokofiefv on April 16 and Strasvinsky’s “The Firebird,” also in April.

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