Pensacola, Florida
Thursday October 17th 2019


A Spectacular Evening

By Jennifer Leigh

A night with Pensacola Symphony Orchestra (PSO) is always a special occasion, but the upcoming Russian Spectacular performance is one not to miss, said Abigail Walker, a musician with PSO.

“The music is rich and romantic,” said the bassoonist, who has been with PSO since 2007. “Composers through the generations have been through such major political turmoil … some were even sent into exile for their music. I’m so fascinated by those who were writing it.”

Russian composers are a staple in the classical music world. PSO will be showcasing another Russian name, Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10” later this month for its next performance.

Shostakovich exemplifies Walker’s point. The composer had a difficult relationship with the government. Much of his work was written under government-imposed requirements of Soviet art. It wasn’t until Joseph Stalin’s death that he could even publish some of the works he had kept secret.

“Music can be a powerful experience,” Walker said. “It can unite or cause revolt or give hope to people who are oppressed.

For Russian Spectacular, PSO will perform three pieces, Anatoly Liadov’s, “Kikimora;” Sergei Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No. 2” and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4.”

Performing with PSO is a guest violinist, Yevgeny Kutik, who was born in Minsk in 1985. When he was 4-years-old, he came to America with his parents.

Kutik brings some modern history into his music. In a 2014 interview with NPR, he explained his parents were feeling pressure for being Jewish. They were stripped of their citizenship and left with just a few suitcases of belongings.

“I think you can only take about $90 per person and two giant suitcases. My mom (a violin professor) insisted on putting in these old scores, collections that she had used playing wise and for teaching,” he recalled. “My grandmother and my family were like, ‘Why? Why are you wasting this precious space with these scores?’”

Among the saved possessions were compositions by Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, which he recorded for the album “Music from the Suitcase: A Collection of Russian Miniatures.”

Along with an overall passion for the music, Walker said she also appreciates that there are a few good bassoon parts in Russian Spectacular.

Listening to the pieces—not just online or in your car, but live—is comparable to a history lesson.

“Think of composers like Mozart or Beethoven as people … we have to hear what they had to say,” Walker said. “They were experiencing life the same way we were. It’s a cool way to connect history.”

Sharing the music is almost as important as making it. Walker gives credit to Maestro Peter Rubardt for not just choosing great pieces, but making it accessible to the community. PSO offers discounted tickets for their dress rehearsal performances and includes audio notes on its website to keep music lovers of all levels engaged. You can also meet the guest artist Yevgeny Kutik at Temple Beth El where he will talk about his experiences immigrating to America, as well as perform during the free event.

“We really are a picture of our community,” Walker said. “(The performance) is something that’s been built. Everybody does something different, we all work together and then gift it to people who may really need it or appreciate it.”

Connecting with the music, the history and those who appreciate it is what makes each PSO performance so thrilling, Walker said.

“It’s unifying, this sense of humanity,” she said. “Being in the middle of the stage, it just captures you. I’m in this incredible erector set. You can listen to recordings all you want, but the live performance … it’s like ‘now’s the time to be really good.’ It’s a unique gift for you.”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 2
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $19-$87

WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 2
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $5

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 31
WHERE: Temple Beth El, 800 N. Palafox
COST: Free and open to the public