From Springfield with love

Springfield Symphony performs Russian Passion at Kuss

By Gary Spencer

Russian classical music, particularly that from the 19th century, has over time become some of the most heralded eras of classical. Although Russian classical music has roots dating back to the 1600s, it was during the 1800s that Russia became a hotbed for some of the greatest composers in classical music history. Names like Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky penned some of their most famous compositions during this time period and their works are still some of the most beloved classical works of all time. Subsequently in the late 1800s and early 1900s a new breed of Russian composers such as Stravinsky and Prokofiev took the more traditional Russian classical style into bolder, experimental directions, and those composers’ works still evoke a sense of awe in musicians, historians and listeners. With this respect and reverence in mind, this coming Saturday the Springfield Symphony Orchestra will present Russian Passion, the fourth installment in this season’s Masterworks series.

“Masterworks are just that—great masterpieces of the orchestral tradition,” says 14-year Springfield Symphony Orchestra musical director and conductor Maestro Peter Stafford Wilson, who programmed the upcoming Russian Passion concert. “I try to create a balance of styles and time periods to provide familiar works as well as works that are not as familiar.”

Russian Passion will shine the spotlight on two of that country’s most acclaimed composers: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). The program kicks off with a double shot of Tchaikovsky: first, “Polonaise from Eugene Onegin”, a selection of music from his 1879 opera of the same name followed up by the “Suite from Sleeping Beauty,” one of Tchaikovsky’s most treasured ballets and most beautiful compositions. The concert will be concluded by the more modern and musically daring “Violin Concerto No. 1 in A” by Shostakovich. The three pieces Wilson has selected for “Russian Passion” fits his aforementioned modus operandi: putting together well-known classic compositions along with those that are a bit off the beaten path and often overlooked for live symphony performance.

“Tchaikovsky’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is major repertoire piece in the theater, but the music is rarely heard in the concert hall—time to change that,” Wilson explains.  “The Shostakovich piece is a staple in the violin repertoire. These two composers represent two distinctly different periods in Russian musical history yet pair well together.”

The violin is a key instrument to the melodic qualities of Russian classical music from any era, and the Springfield Symphony is welcoming young but talented Russian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik as its star soloist for Russian Passion. Kutik was born in Minsk, Belarus and immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of five. With classical music in his blood, it was natural that Kutik soon learned to play violin.

“I’ve been playing the violin since I was about five-and-a-half,” Kutik says. “My mom, a violinist, was my first teacher. My dad played trumpet in the Belarusian National Symphony as did my grandfather. I think I was surrounded by music from day zero, so my desire to play the violin and love for music didn’t particularly surprise my family.”

Kutik’s skill and dedication soon led him to achieve a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Boston University, which then led to him getting his Master’s from the New England Conservatory of Music. Since then Kutik has recorded two albums under his own name and performed all over the world as a featured soloist in some of the most prestigious occasions. This Saturday Kutik will make his Miami Valley debut playing some of the music he loves most, not just because of its content but because of its rich history.

“Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto is one of my favorite violin works,” Kutik says. “Shostakovich was for a long time condemned by Stalin and the Soviet authorities for his artistic style. When he wrote this piece, it was never performed because of its very dark and complex nature. Had it been performed, the authorities would likely have accused Shostakovich of being ‘anti-communist’ or ‘anti-regime’ and he could have faced arrest or worse. Instead the piece was shelved until after the death of Stalin. It has since become one of the best known 20th century violin concertos heard today. It has real heart. This is a piece everyone should hear at least once in their lifetime.”

Everybody involved with Russian Passion believes that grand orchestral works such as those on the program for the concert should be heard live and in person at least once in their lives, even in a non-major market for classical music such as the Miami Valley.

“The sound of the symphony orchestra is like nothing else you will ever imagine, and you will be astonished by the quality that we achieve right here in Springfield,” Wilson declares. “We have been in residence here

[at Kuss Auditorium] since the building’s construction in 1990.  It has superb acoustics, among the finest in the region.”

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra will perform Russian Passion Saturday, April 23 at Kuss Auditorium, 300 S. Fountain Ave. in Springfield. Tickets range from $27-$51 in advance. Opening Notes precedes the concert at 7:15 p.m. in the Turner Studio Theater and concert begins at 8 p.m. For more information, please visit

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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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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