Russians open in Broward with drama on stage and off

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Valery Gergiev and the storied Mariinsky Orchestra opened their four-concert South Florida stand Monday evening at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts with a Predominantly Prokofiev program. But excellent as the music-making was, for local audiences the larger story continues to be the evolving fortunes of the Concert Association of Florida, which presented the event.

In September, the Miami Herald reported that after the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami spurned the CAF’s summer bid for partnership, the Concert Association of Florida found a financial “angel” in P. Daniel Orlich. A Virginia attorney, Orlich recently set up a for-profit Florida corporation, Jason Atlantic Corp. through which he will serve as financial backer and active partner in presenting and programming Concert Association events, board chairman Robert Hudson told the Herald’s Dan Chang.

What that means for the future of the organization and its artistic direction is anyone’s guess, since, Orlich’s classical music and impresario background appear to be nil. After unsuccessful attempts to reach Orlich at his offices in Virginia, I called Concert Association CEO Albert Milano last month to ask about Orlich’s musical tastes, background and presenting experience. Still smarting over an August column I wrote questioning the artistic direction of the Concert Association, Milano yelled “I’m not talking to you! Why should I talk to you?” Asked what plans Orlich has on tap for the Association, Milano replied, “You’ll find out!”

So, we’ll see. For now, the Concert Association’s benefactor appears to want to be a very silent partner since in his stage remarks Monday night, Milano did not introduce Orlich—assuming he was there—or mention him in any way.

Whatever the rich-man-behind-the-curtain machinations, Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra served up an enjoyable, refreshingly offbeat program, which, sadly, played to a more-than-half-empty house, disconcerting attendance for one of the world’s top conductors and orchestras.

The Mariinsky has jettisoned the “Kirov” and reverted to its historic pre-Soviet title, but — a Russian rose by any other name — under the dynamic Gergiev, the orchestra remains the virtual embodiment of the classic Russian orchestra sonority.

The opener, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture made a worthy calling card, showcasing the Mariinsky’s dark, deep-pile strings, gloriously ripe trumpets and big, febrile winds, with Gergiev leading a spacious yet tautly dramatic account.

The Tchaikovsky was a switch from the originally scheduled Chout, in a bid to make the program of forbiddingly titled Prokofiev rarities more user-friendly. If the remaining three works on display presented no unplumbed masterworks, they certainly helped to round out our knowledge of Prokofiev’s output, for good and ill.

For the second time in a month in South Florida, we’ve had a fully equipped, two-handed pianist elect to perform a left-handed work, in this case Alexei Volodin tackling Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 4.

Like Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand — with which Yuja Wang opened the New World Symphony’s season — Prokofiev wrote his concerto for pianist Paul Wittgenstein who lost his right arm in World War 1. Yet Prokofiev’s concerto is a much less convincing work than Ravel’s. Closer to a divertissement than full-fledged concerto, the Fourth reflects Prokofiev’s tendency to fall back on solo display glitter and showy inconsequentiality. Only the Andante rises above the mundane, a surprisingly rich lyrical outpouring, which makes the surrounding frippery seem even more superficial.

Volodin showed worthy southpaw virtuosity, deftly throwing off the concerto’s scherzo-like brilliance. His two-handed Chopin encore, however, proved that he is a deeper and subtler artist than the concerto allowed for.

Excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet routinely top the list of South Florida’s most over-programmed works, so kudos to Gergiev for giving us a generous sampling from the ballet Cinderella instead.

While not quite as indelible as Prokofiev’s more famous ballet, there is much music of great charm and dramatic incident in CInderella as well — notably the mounting tick-tock of the clock approaching midnight in the ball scene. The music served as a worthy showpiece for the gifted Russian musicians, and Gergiev’s unique finger-wiggling direction drew playing of sumptuous richness and weighty ballast.

Prokofiev’s ballet, The Steel Step is a genuine rarity. Premiered in Paris in 1927 by Diaghilev’s troupe, it managed to enrage all political sides, from communists who believed it trivialized Soviet workers’ achievements to anti-communists who viewed it as simplistic agitprop.

Heard out of its contemporary political maelstrom, The Steel Step is an intriguing piece, if a work decidedly of its time. Clearly inspired by the Futurist movement, the ballet is more subtle than its reputation suggests, with some wittily sardonic lampooning of pomposity (The Officials) amid the piston-driving mechanistic fury. Gergiev balanced and controlled the brawny hurly-burly skillfully while pointing climaxes with massive impact, firmly making the case that Prokofiev’s reputation should rest on more than a handful of concert-hall greatest hits.

Valery Gergiev, Alexei Volodin and the Mariinsky Orchestra perform three more concerts of slightly varied programs this week in South Florida:

2 p.m. Tuesday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach: Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4; Prokofiev: Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet.

8 p.m. Wednesday at the Kravis Center: Prokofiev: Chout (Symphonic Suite), Piano Concerto No. 4, Cinderella (Suite No. 3); Mendelssohn: Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 561-832-7469;

8 p.m. Thursday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami: Wagner: Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin; Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4; Prokofiev: Excerpts from the ballets Cinderella and The Steel Step. 305-808-7446;

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One Response to “Russians open in Broward with drama on stage and off”

  1. Posted Nov 05, 2008 at 8:23 pm by gabriel

    Luckily for the audience in attendance sitting atop the balcony, south florida’s consistently low concert attendance enabled the classical music connoisseur on a budget to trickle down to upper orchestral seating; But such is a double edged sword: the concert goer benefits, yet while the rest of the community is either disinclined or uninformed (usually both), pecuniary issues eventually arise and we are left to swoon against the whim of financial “angels” and donors.

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Tue Nov 4, 2008
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