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Musical event celebrates little known story of Jewish rescue

A largely unknown and uplifting event in the dark history of the Holocaust will be told through a concert that combines the musical forces of a full orchestra, a choir from Bulgaria, choirs from around the U.S. and soloists. Songs of Life Festival: A Melancholy Beauty, being performed for the first time in South Carolina after successful performances in New York, Washington D.C. and Boston, recounts how Bulgaria’s 49,000 Jews were saved from the Nazis by ordinary citizens, government and church officials. 2013 marks the 70th anniversary of the rescue. The performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Nov. 2 at the Charleston Music Hall and 7 p.m., Nov. 3, at the Koger Center for the Arts in Columbia.

Songs of Life will be performed by the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra, augmented by Bulgarian folk instruments, the Philip Kutev National Folklore Ensemble of Bulgaria, University of Florida Chamber Choir, the Bach Festival Youth Choir, Young Sandlapper Singers, the Limestone College and Community Chorus and several professional soloists. The centerpiece is A Melancholy Beauty, a new oratorio that had its world premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and has been performed at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York and the Wang Center in Boston. A Melancholy Beauty is a creation of Varna International, a South Carolina-based organization that for 15 years has presented music festivals throughout Europe. The organization is headed by husband and wife team Kalin Tchonev, a native of Bulgaria, and Sharon Tchoneva, a native of Israel. Sharon Tchoneva's Bulgarian grandparents were saved during the rescue. This is the first time the work has been presented in South Carolina. “We felt it was important to stage the production this year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the rescue, and it seemed appropriate to bring it ‘home,’” Sharon Tchonev said. http://youtu.be/uX2kpMHCwIM The idea for A Melancholy Beauty came to Kalin Tchonev while he was attending a performance of the musical Mama Mia in Berlin. Seated nearby was a group of people with mental disabilities, and he began reflecting on the fate of such people in Nazi Germany and how Bulgarians Jews had been saved from the death camps – including his wife’s family. “I realized that if it were not for the miraculous rescue, I would not have my wife and son today,” Kalin Tchonev said. “We wanted to pay tribute to the brave people who stood up – ordinary people who arose to defy evil.” They did so by commissioning composer Georgi Andreev and librettists Scot Cairns and Aryeh Finklestein to create A Melancholy Beauty. Andreev, chief conductor of the State Folklore Ensemble, has written many works for chamber orchestra and piano and arranged 400 Bulgarian traditional songs. Cairns’ poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review and The New Republic, and he is the author of six poetry collections. Finklestein, cantor at Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Massachusetts, has written the libretti for three oratorios. A Melancholy Beauty combines classical choral-orchestral music with Bulgarian musical influences and traditional instruments such as the gadulka (a type of lute) and kaval (flute). The soloists will perform the roles of several key players in the drama including King Boris, the head of the Orthodox Church; a pro-Nazi commissar; his private secretary, who warned the Jews; and a political leader who opposed the deportation. The performance will be conducted by Donald Portnoy, music director of the USC Symphony Orchestra. “Approaching Maestro Portnoy was a natural decision for us, as we always seek to work with a good local orchestra, and Kalin holds master’s degrees from the USC School of Music and was acquainted with Maestro Portnoy,” explained Sharon Tchonev. “He immediately embraced the idea.” The South Carolina productions will open with a performance by the National Folklore Ensemble. The Optimists, a film about the rescue, will be shown as well. The movie won First Prize at the Jerusalem International Film Festival for Documenting the Jewish Experience and won an honorable mention award at the Berlin International Film Festival. “Because the story isn’t widely known, we wanted to provide the audience with an understanding of the history that inspired A Melancholy Beauty,” said Sharon Tchonev. “We can’t think of a better way than screening the 20-minute version of this beautiful and deeply moving film told from a personal perspective of what happened to the filmmaker’s family.” For more information, visit the Songs of Life website. Via: Songs of Life Festival

Faculty soloists and new music in the spotlight for concert

Outstanding USC School of Music faculty members – trumpeter James Ackley and double bassist Craig Butterfield – will be center stage for the next USC Symphony Orchestra concert with two contemporary works. The concert takes place Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Koger Center. Ackley and the orchestra will give the North American premiere of Juan Carlos Valencia Ramos’ Concierto para Trompeta y Orquesta from 2011, while Butterfield will be soloist for Nine Variants on Paganini, a 2002 work by Frank Proto. This will be the first time the soloists have performed these works. The concert, which will be conducted by the orchestra’s assistant music director Neil Casey, will also include John Adams’ The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, op. 34. Casey, Ackley and Butterfield aren’t just colleagues; they’re also friends who spend time together away from the concert hall and School of Music. Associate professor Ackley was principal trumpet and soloist for the Bogota (Colombia) Philharmonic and taught at the National Conservatory of Music in Colombia. He is principal trumpeter with the Augusta Symphony and member of the Bala Brass Quintet. “The USC Symphony had asked me to perform, but we hadn’t decided on a particular piece – then I got wind of this piece,” Ackley said. “It really uses the color of the orchestra and is full of Latin American sounds, folk melodies and jazz. I thought it would be a cool piece and the orchestra was very happy with it.” Butterfield is active in the classical and jazz fields and performs regularly as a solo artist working with electronics and exploring the possibilities of the instrument. He was a member of Maynard Ferguson’s big band during 2004 and 2005 and is half of the guitar/bass duo Dez Cordes. This will be his first time performing as a soloist with the orchestra. “One of the big problems for double bassists is the lack of repertoire,” said Butterfield. “In the late 1700s and early 1800s a number of composers were writing for double bass, then there was nothing for a long time. Now a lot more contemporary composers are writing for us.” Nine Variants is based on Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for solo violin which Schumann, Liszt, Brahms and Rachmaninoff all tapped for inspiration. This will be the first time Casey has led a full concert by the orchestra, but he’s well known as conductor for opera at USC. He also leads the Armstrong Atlantic Youth Orchestra in Savannah, Ga., and the USC Campus Orchestra. He has been assistant conductor of the Augusta Symphony and music director of the Statesboro-Georgia Southern Symphony and guest conductor with the Savannah Symphony, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Knoxville Symphony, Spokane Symphony, Richmond Symphony, S.C. Philharmonic and the Charleston Symphony. The Chairman Dances (1985) is described by Adams as an "outtake" from Nixon in China, although it is not part of the opera and is musically dissimilar. It is meant to depict Madame Mao gatecrashing a presidential banquet and performing a seductive dance, enticing Chairman Mao to descend from his portrait and dance a foxtrot with her. The concert closes with Capriccio Espagnol from 1887 by Rimsky-Korsakov. The composer based the piece on sketches he had made for a virtuoso violin fantasy on Spanish themes and then expanded it to feature almost every instrument in the orchestra during the five-movement. It is one of his most popular works. “This concert allows us to bring two great soloists to stage for newer works the orchestra hasn’t performed and the Capriccio with its emphasis on each instrument lets the students shine as well,” said Casey. “And The Chairman Dances is just a wonderful and fun way to start any concert.” Tickets are $30 for the general public, $25 for USC faculty and staff and seniors, and $8 for students. Call (803) 251-2222 or go to http://www.capitoltickets.com/ Via: USC Symphony Orchestra

USC Symphony opens season with pianist Misha Dichter

The University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra will launch its season Thursday, Sept. 19 with Misha Dichter, a giant presence in the piano world for nearly half a century. The concert takes place at the Koger Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. “As far as I know he’s never before performed in Columbia, and we’re very excited to have a guest artist who has led such an extraordinary musical life,” said Donald Portnoy, music director of the orchestra. Dichter burst onto the world’s music scene in 1966, winning the silver medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition when he was just 20 and a student at the Juilliard School. He made his New York debut in 1968 with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. The pianist’s vast discography on the Philips, RCA, and MusicMasters labels ranges from George Frederic Handel to George Gershwin. A noted exponent of Franz Liszt's piano works, Dichter was honored in 1998 with the Grand Prix International du Disque Liszt. Since winning the silver at the Tchaikovsky half a century ago, he has had a nearly non-stop career as soloist with major orchestras around the world and as a chamber musician, often performing duo-piano works with his wife Cipa Dichter, and appearing regularly at the Ravinia, Caramoor, Mostly Mozart and Aspen festivals. He will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, op. 43 with the orchestra. Rachmaninoff composed The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, op. 43 during the summer of 1934 basing it on composer and violinist Niccolo Paganini's Caprice No. 24 in A minor, Op. 1, which Schumann, Liszt, Brahms and others had also tapped for variations. It was the last work he wrote for piano and orchestra and is one of his best loved works. For more information about the concert, visit the USC Symphony's website. Individual tickets are $30 for the general public, $25 for USC faculty and staff and seniors, and $8 for students. For tickets, call (803) 251-2222 or visit http://www.capitoltickets.com/ Via: USC Symphony Orchestra  

USC Symphony celebrates the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein

The songs of musical theater giants Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein take center stage for the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra concert Tuesday, Feb. 12. The orchestra, soloists and a 30-member chorus will perform tunes from Carousel, State Fair, The King and I, The Sound of Music, South Pacific and Oklahoma. “These will be the most famous tunes from the shows,” says Donald Portnoy, USC Symphony Orchestra music director. “There is so much variety – solos, duos, duos with chorus, chorus alone, tenor, mezzo, baritone, soprano and everyone comes out for Oklahoma! People will go home singing all the tunes.” Hearing this music performed by an orchestra will be a unique experience. “Many people know these songs, but few have experienced them with a full orchestra, which magnifies the lush and dynamic qualities,” Portnoy says. “The orchestration is fantastic, the lyrics are fantastic – it’s just really special music.” Among the 22 songs to be performed are “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.” The concert features soloists and USC School of Music faculty Tina Milhorn Stallard (soprano), Janet Hopkins (mezzo-soprano), Walter Cuttino, (tenor), Jacob Will (bass-baritone) and the Sandlapper Singers. Stallard was soloist in Timothy Powell’s Incarnation Mysteria at Lincoln Center and soloist in Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the prelude to the Olympics. Hopkins has sung with the Metropolitan Opera for 17 years performing in The Barber of Seville, Die Walkure, Der Rosenkavalier and other operas. Cuttino has given over 1,000 operatic performances and more than 500 concerts, including a concert tour with Leonard Bernstein. Will’s career has included concerts with orchestras around the world and on the stages of the Zürich Opera, New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera and others. “These are incredible singers with serious training and professional experiences who bring real depth to the songs,” Portnoy says. Rodgers and Hammerstein began their collaboration in 1943 with a huge hit - Oklahoma! The musical ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances, finally closing after five years. Oklahoma! also ushered in an era of musicals with believable plots and songs that advanced the action. Their last collaboration was in many ways their most successful. The Sound of Music contains more hit songs than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in part due to the phenomenal success of the film version, which was the most financially successful film adaptation of a Broadway musical ever made. During their quarter century as a team Rodgers and Hammerstein won 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards and two Grammy Awards. The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the Koger Center for the Arts in Columbia. Tickets are $25; $20 for USC faculty and staff, seniors and military; and $8 for students. Call (803) 251-2222 or visit to http://www.capitoltickets.com/. Via: USC Symphony Orchestra