The final concert of the Vancouver Symphony’s season will show an Armenian influence in two different ways. That’s because the first half of the program will feature Armenian-born pianist Sofya Melikyan in Richard Strauss’s “Burleske.” The second half will offer the massive Second Symphony of Arum Khachaturian, who is considered the greatest Armenian composer.
Melikyan, 39, studied piano performance at the Royal Conservatory of Madrid, the Ecole Normale de Musique Alfred Cortot in Paris, and at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. She has won a number of competitions, including the Marisa Montiel International Piano Competition, the Ibiza International Competition, and the Jose Iturbi and Maria Canals International Competitions in Spain.
As a recitalist and orchestral soloist, Melikyan has performed in Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia. The concert with the Salvador Brotons will mark her first collaboration with him as well as the first time that she has played Strauss’s “Burleske.” For the past nine months, she has been practicing the splashy one-movement concerto, which Strauss wrote when he was just 22 years old.
“What I like most is the youthful enthusiasm, inspiration and the spirit of the music,” said Melikyan. “The whole “Burleske” from the beginning to the end is so beautiful and such fun to play. It has some tricky and virtuosic parts. The main goal is to make the piece sound light, rhythmic, joyful, and transparent — and to remain constantly in the game!”
“Burleske” starts with an opening solo from the timpani, which is briefly taken over by the orchestra before it is embellished by the pianist. That sets the lively tone of the piece, which typically lasts about 20 minutes.
If You Go
What: Strauss piano concerto and Khachaturian’s massive Symphony No. 2 (“The Bell”).
When: 3 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.
Cost: $50 for reserved seats, $37 for general admission, $32 for seniors and $10 for students.
“The audience should listen for the dialogue between the piano and the orchestra,” added Melikyan, “especially the combination of lyrical Brahms-like moments with the dramatic outbursts. The orchestration plays a big role in the piece. Strauss is one of the greatest orchestral and opera composers. The “Burleske” fully displays the remarkable orchestral color and brilliant orchestration so evident in his later works.”
After intermission, the orchestra will perform Khachaturian’s Symphony No 2, which he wrote in 1943 after Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union. Due to his stature as a composer, Khachaturian took advantage of living in Ivanovo, a city located 150 northeast of Moscow and out of the way of the fighting. He had terrific company in that Shostakovich and Prokofiev resided there, as well. All three wrote symphonic works in response to the war, and Khachaturian’s Second Symphony was given its premiere in Moscow in December of 1943. He revised it the following year, and that version is the one that the orchestra will play.
“The Khachaturian is a powerful symphony based on horrendous moments of war,” remarked Brotons. “It is called “The Bell Symphony” because of a bell motif at the beginning and ending of the piece. The second theme of the third (slow) movement is based on the “Dies Irae” which is a very well- known Gregorian chant associated with death. The music also has some wonderful Armenian flavors. ”
Even though Brotons has not conducted the Second Symphony before, its highly emotional, almost neo-Romantic music should work well with his expressive conducting style.
“I love the excitement of the themes, the variety of rhythms, and the profoundness of the music,” said Brotons. “I discovered this symphony a long time ago in a version conducted by the composer. It’s a spectacular work.”
Khachaturian’s Symphony No. 2 has four movements and lasts around 50 minutes. Brotons is well-noted for his ability to memorize complex works, but he didn’t say for certain that he would conduct the piece without the aid of a score.
“At this moment, I do not know if I’ll conduct it by memory,” he noted. “I want to try it, but I want to have time to study it thoroughly. It is a long symphony.”
The concert will also open with an audience favorite that will be announced from the stage. Brotons didn’t divulge the name of the piece. “You will have to come to the concert to find out!” he said.