Review: Bold Performances by the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, Pianist Marika Bournaki – Duluth News Tribune
For the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra’s lineup for the first concert of the new year, Music Director Dirk Meyer has chosen two bold and dramatic works by two classical music legends: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Ludwig Van Beethoven.
Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23” made up the entire first half of the concert. Instantly recognizable from its iconic opening, the concerto engages from the first moment with its descending four-note horn theme and the dramatic chords of the pianist’s first entry.
The guest artist, French-Canadian pianist Marika Bournaki, has been dubbed “the Celine Dion of classical music” and “the freshest face of the classical music scene”. Beginning his piano studies at the age of 5, his parents and teachers quickly recognized his exceptional talent. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Julliard School.
She has performed in concert halls around the world as a soloist, guest artist and with her husband, the famous American cellist Julian Schwartz. Bournaki was also the subject of an award-winning documentary, “I Am Not a Rock Star”, chronicling his development as an artist from age 12 to 20.
Bournaki clearly felt the passion, the emotion and the nobility of the concerto, with his hands, at times, a real blur as they raced over the keyboard. His commitment to the rhapsodic piece through passages of Ukrainian folk music, down to the slower dreamy moments, up to the tumultuous and grandiose climax of the third movement, was echoed in the orchestra’s masterful playing of 56 members throughout.
Meyer elegantly led the opposition and coordination of soloist and orchestra, keeping Bournaki and DSSO in sync to the triumphant conclusion.
Tchaikovsky’s Concerto has been used often in popular culture, including radio broadcasts from the Orson Welles Mercury Theater; the films “Harold and Maude” and “Misery”; TV show “Mad Men”; and even a sketch of Monty Python. The introduction to the first movement was played during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
After the intermission, another iconic work, Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 Eroica”, was the only piece in the second half of the concert.
The “Eroica” symphony marked the beginning of Beethoven’s innovative middle period. In 1802, Beethoven remarked that he “was not satisfied with the work I had done so far” and confessed that “from now on I intend to take a new path”.
The result of this “new way” was “Symphony No. 3”, which was named “Eroica” or “Eroica”. This symphony marked a significant shift from Beethoven’s classical forms to elements that foreshadowed Romantic music.
Originally, Beethoven dedicated the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, as he considered him a man of the people, embodying the democratic principles of the Revolution. Later, Beethoven angrily withdrew the dedication when Napoleon declared himself emperor.
The symphony runs the gamut of emotion, with the DSSO musicians playing with energy, heart and bravado throughout.
The first movement evokes the uncertainties of life and the struggle of the hero. With the second movement, the mournful ‘funeral march’, the death and commemoration of a fallen hero is a central theme. This move is also thought to reflect Beethoven’s desperation when he realized he was going deaf.
The third movement, on the other hand, changes course with hope and unbridled joy. The last movement evokes the hero’s journey from humble beginnings to magnificent grandeur, and is the dramatic climax of the piece and concert.
- What: “To Be Bold” by the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra
- When: stream now
- Tickets: $15; in-person tickets for future concerts $10 – $58
Next concert: “To Celebrate,” live at 7 p.m. Feb. 26; virtual concert streaming on March 1.
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and filmmaker. She reviews the performances for the Duluth News Tribune.