Philharmonic chamber orchestra performs Prokofiev: The Art of the Sonata

By Gary Spencer

One of the great things about the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance is the many innovative and creative programs they present, whether it be the Dayton Ballet, Opera, or the Philharmonic. In the case of the latter, the Dayton Philharmonic 2017-18 season is one of the most forward-thinking in the organization’s long, storied history. This Sunday, the DPO continues this trend as they proudly present “Prokofiev: The Art of the Sonata,” a one-performance three-piece chamber concert in the middle of the afternoon at the breath-takingly beautiful Renaissance Auditorium at the Dayton Art Museum.

“Prokofiev: The Art of the Sonata” is the brainchild of current DPO Concertmaster and first-chair violinist, Jessica Hung. She was first appointed DPO Concertmaster back in 2008, and has built a reputation as a go-to string player not just all over Ohio, but also afar in places such as Germany, Amsterdam, and the world renowned Carnegie Hall. So I had to ask her, what exactly is the art of the sonata?

“A sonata is simply a piece of music written usually for one solo instrument or two instruments working in partnership, and it generally has three or four separate parts or movements,” Hung explains. “The traditional layout is to start with a fast movement, followed by a slow movement, then an optional medium-tempo dance-like movement, and a fast movement finale. However, this is not true for every piece on the program, so it will keep you guessing!”

Then there’s the second component of this Sunday’s program – the legendary Russian composer, pianist, and conductor, Sergei Prokofiev. The composer is widely credited as the creator of many classical masterpieces across numerous musical genres and is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century; his name is synonymous with the sonata song form.

“Prokofiev was an undisputed musical giant: a talented pianist, and a composer skilled and prolific in multiple musical genres including ballet, film, chamber music, opera, symphonies, [and] concertos,” Hung says. “Prokofiev’s music always has two sides to it that seem opposing, but really could not exist without the other. One is unabashedly Romantic and earnest, exemplified by the climactic moments in his ballet score for “Romeo and Juliet.” The other is dry, sarcastic, and even willfully irritating or obtuse. These character traits may seem extreme, but they reflect the human condition, and the fact that we build prickly, thorny walls or develop offbeat senses of humor to hide our tender hearts. The contrast between the two different violin and piano sonatas is another great example of Prokofiev’s many faces: Sonata No. 1 is a brooding, desolate soundscape, while Sonata No. 2 is a flamboyant, show-stopping crowd-pleaser.”

The two compositions referenced by Hung are among the five Prokofiev pieces that will be performed by the trio of Hung, pianist Zsolt Bognar, and associate Concertmaster and violinist Aurelian Oprea. According to Hung, this is a prime opportunity not just for the group to perform such classics by Prokofiev, but to also display the abilities of each musician involved.

“Aurelian and Zsolt are both consummate professional artists, both exquisitely tasteful and dramatically virtuosic in their playing, and I always feel so comfortable working with both of them,” Hung says.  “This program brings together all of these beloved works, each with its own distinctive character, and allows us as musicians to bond over our affinity for this particular Russian composer. It will also be exciting to have them work together for the first time and see what chemistry comes from their unique personalities and musical styles.”

Prokofiev: The Art of the Sonata is also an opportunity to again utilize the ambiance of the Renaissance Auditorium at the Dayton Art Institute, which seems to be the perfect venue for The Art of the Sonata.

“The nearly 500-seat auditorium has excellent acoustics that help the sound to both project out into the hall and still retain a sense of warmth and intimacy,” Hung says. “I have been fortunate to give about a dozen solo or chamber performances there, so it truly feels like a professional home.”

And for those readers who may feel apprehensive about emarking on their first classical chamber concert, Hung has a message for you.

“I would tell a new chamber concertgoer that chamber music originated in people’s living rooms, designed for a small enough group of musicians that it could be played at informal house parties,” Hung says. “That being said, parts of Prokofiev’s sonatas can be rather intense, so it won’t all be the kind of music that you can sit back, relax, and close your eyes to. There’s a level of engagement in listening to this music live akin to watching a race, a boxing match, or a psychological suspense movie! The tables can turn at any moment with a jarring chord or an inspirational new melody, and we hope to really draw the audience into that mindset of alert anticipation. This isn’t your grandmother’s classical music. Well, technically it is, being about 100 years old, but it’s as raw as ever. We hope you’ll join us for a wild ride through the Soviet wilderness.”

Prokofiev: The Art of the Sonata takes place this coming Sunday, Nov. 12 at the Dayton Art Institute’s Renaissance Auditorium, 456 Belmonte Park N. Tickets are $14-22 in advance. For more information, please visit

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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