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Viva la Musica: Russian style

By Miko Sloper, Special to the Daily Plane
Friday October 26, 2001

Berkeley Russian School to hold benefit for New York victims’ families 


For the past several years, the Berkeley Russian School has staged a series of benefit performances of classical music to raise funds for the school, whose mission is to provide instruction in Russian culture, especially music, language and art, to children and teens.  

This year a portion of the proceeds will be donated to victims of the attack on the World Trade Center. 

The program will open with Barber’s Adagio for strings, a famously melancholy piece, which is meant to evoke the sadness of recent events and perhaps lead some listeners to purge their grief, using music to heal the wounds of the soul. Although this piece is often performed by a full string orchestra, this time there will be only five players, allowing for a deep appreciation of Barber’s contrapuntal cleverness, which is often lost in the thick lushness of the grand mass of players normally assembled to present this popular work. Fans of the Adagio will be glad to hear this fine quintet present it in small format. Sometimes less is more. 

The program continues with a series of sonatas by Tartini, Marais, Vivaldi, Mozart and Prokofiev. Since most of the performers were trained in Russian conservatories, the level of technical virtuosity is expected to be impeccable, and the level of soulfulness will be deep.  

Pianist Sergei Podobedov was awarded the Queen Mother Scholarship and played a command performance for Queen Elizabeth and the royal family. He will display his virtuosic powers in the Prokofiev piece and his mature musicality in the Mozart soanata. 

Bass player Alex Glikman and violinist Arthur Mikhailov have been playing together since their younger days when they both played in the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, so they bring a sense of ensemble tempered and deepened by decades.  

Pianist Miles Graber raises the task of accompaniment to a high art.  

“It appeals to me to be an accompanist with great chamber music players, feeling oneness with them,” Graber said. 

In the midst of the banquet of sonatas there will be a main course of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, sung by soprano Yulia Ronskaya and mezzo-soprano Sally Munro. This stunningly beautiful work is worth the price of admission by itself. This setting of the Stabat Mater is available in many recorded versions, but the intimacy and directness of a live performance puts all recordings to shame, especially with voices as lovely and rich as these.  

The concert will conclude on an unusually rousing note, as a trio of sopranos renders a medley of Gershwin tunes and finishes with an arrangement of a Russian Gypsy song.  

With any kind of luck, they will add an encore or two from the Russian repertory of songs. This will be a special treat to hear Russian ex-patriots singing their native soul music after presenting some of ours. 

The First Congregational Church is an excellent venue for chamber music. Unfortunately too many chamber music concerts take place in halls intended for large ensembles and so the sound of the music is lost in the overwhelming space. During this concert audience members will be able to hear the full power and the subtle nuances inherent in these pieces. 

This concert will provide a delightful evening of entertainment through high culture, while contributing to one of Berkeley’s important educational institutions and also aiding the families of victims of the tragedy in New York.