Monday, January 18, 2016

Local pianist thrills Vancouver Symphony audience with Prokofiev concerto

Dimitri Zhgenti in concert - photo by the Vancouver Symphony
Dimitri Zhgenti gave an outstanding performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto with the Vancouver Symphony on Sunday evening (January 17). Zhgenti, who recently earned his Masters in Music from Indiana University, South Bend, deserved every decibel of applause from the appreciative audience at Skyview Concert Hall, which was packed. The large crowd was due in part because Vancouver is Zhgenti’s home town, and the concert marked his debut with the orchestra. VSO music director Salvador Brotons conducted all of the works on the program, which included Béla Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra” and Franz Liszt’s “Prometheus.”

Zhgenti generated a brilliant tone from the Steinway grand. In Zhgenti’s hands, the concerto danced brightly and its many fleet, tricky passages skipped along effortlessly. His stirring cadenza punctuated the first part of the piece before it transitioned to the moody and slower middle section. He also demonstrated ample power so that the piano could be heard over the loudest orchestral accompaniment, including the finale when the musicians wound up the piece an exciting roar.

The audience immediately gave Zhgenti a standing ovation that brought him back to the stage three times. He responded with a lovely encore, Rachmaninoff’s “Études-Tableaux” (“study pictures”) in G minor, Opus 33.

The orchestra played Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra” with intensity and attention to the technical details. From the opening bars of the piece, in which they created an atmosphere of mystery, the orchestra was really with the conductor, following him closely as the music unfolded through its many tempo changes and tricky passages. Excellent ensemble work by the individual sections of the orchestra made this piece really enjoyable. Highlights from the second movement included the unusual pairings for the winds, the lovely brass choir, the intriguing horn and tuba passage, followed by the bassoon trio, and finally a duet for two harps. The third movement soothed things a bit with the woodwinds chirping about like forest birds and a restful ending. The fourth movement featured a jokey polka that interrupted the sweeping melodic line of the strings. The fifth engagingly transitioned from percolating bursts to a continuous movement of sounds. The principals of the orchestra led their sections with distinction, and after the piece concluded, Brotons waded into the orchestra to acknowledge various sections for their contributions.

The orchestra evoked the heroic nature of Liszt’s “Prometheus,” contrasting the lovely and introverted melodic themes with the extroverted, urgent and pell-mell sections. The muffled horns, lively brass combined, and sudden pauses contributed to the thrilling performance.

Overall, this was the best concert of the season so far, because the orchestra played each piece with more expertise, expression, and attention to detail than they had shown in earlier concerts. Hopefully, also, Zhgenti will be invited for a return appearance sometime in the near future. As a final note, the concert was dedicated to the memory of Joanna Hodges, who was a longtime symphony supporter and teacher of Zhgenti.

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