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New York Festival Orchestra Presents a Mostly Beethoven Festival at Merkin Concert Hall

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New York Festival Orchestra
Hideaki Hirai, Music Director & Conductor
Kalin Ivanov, Executive Director

Mostly Beethoven Festival

Ivan Donchev, Piano

At Merkin Concert Hall
(Merkin Hall Website)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 5, 2015

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro (1786), K. 492.

Francesco Marino: Misteri (Mysteries) for Piano and String Orchestra (US Premiere)

Ludwig Van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major (1809-1811), Op. 73
“Allegro”, “Adagio un poco mosso”, “Rondo: Allegro”

Ludwig Van Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major (1811-1812), Op. 92
“Poco sostenuto-Vivace”, “Allegretto”, “Presto-Assai meno presto”, “Allegro con brio”

New York Festival Orchestra has, as a mission, to celebrate cross cultural exchanges and the multicultural diversity of New York. It has educational and outreach programs and collaborates with other arts genres, such as painting, photography, and fashion. Comments below relate to paintings on view at this concert. The Music Director and Conductor of New York Festival Orchestra, Hideaki Hirai, also conducted the 2013, USA-Japan Goodwill Mission Concert at Carnegie Hall. Tonight, Merkin Hall was packed, and the Mostly Beethoven Festival ensued, with two encores added.

Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro sounded somewhat like a fanfare, with heraldic brass and feverish strings. The youthful orchestra was ebullient and energized, always smiling and tremendously focused. It’s wonderful to notice immediately that a purposeful new orchestra is created with such enthusiastic musicians, some at the beginning of their careers. Francesco Marino, an Italian composer of chamber music, is noted in the program as having created a structured dialogue for piano and orchestra. Ivan Donchev, solo pianist, joined the orchestra for Marino’s Misteri for Piano and String Orchestra, in its US Premiere. I found the piece atmospheric and surreal, shifting seamlessly from atonal to melodic. Mr. Donchev was poised, with internalized emotionality. He presented this new work with refinement and reverence. It ends on a suspended phrase, in the highest tonal register, like an unresolved thought.

The Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 raced up and down the scale in the “Allegro”, with sumptuous strings echoing the piano. Mr. Donchev once again showed professional prowess and calm poise in this rapid movement. For the “Adagio”, Maestro Hirai brought forth mournful and sublime musicality from this eager orchestra, while Mr. Donchev treated the audience with thrilling keyboard trills. In fact, the synchronicity of pianist and orchestra was such that the conductor held the musicians on an elongated note, while Mr. Donchev brought the movement to a close. The “Rondo: Allegro” opened with the renowned, pulsing theme, which was so rhythmic it evoked a courtly dance. Ivan Donchev returned for multiple bows, before his encore, Schubert’s Kupelwieser Waltz. More on that encore can be found below.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 followed, after intermission, with Maestro Hirai in full command. The “Poco sostenuto-Vivace” once again was evocative of dancelike swirls in a lyrical, bucolic mood. The flute passage was echoed by the strings, with horns inviting each shift of phrase. I noted that the conductor uses both hands and baton for emphasis. He catches the eye of musicians in the far corners and brings out their instrumental potential. The funereal-like “Allegretto” beckons the cellos, led by Kalin Ivanov, the orchestra’s director. The cello section was richly blended into the tones of this vibrant symphony. The “Presto” had a feverish introduction, with timpani and reeds, before the violins led a reconfiguration of the resounding theme. The orchestral volume built with fiery moments, toward the “Allegro con brio” finale. There was fullness and warmth in the Hall, as the Beethoven ended in wild, staccato strings. After numerous accolades, Maestro Hirai announced the second encore of the evening, Beethoven’s "Ich liebe dich" (“I love you”), arranged by the conductor.

Mr. Ivanov sent me Mr. Donchev’s personal explanation of his Schubert encore: “The reason the encore of Schubert, “Kupelwieser Waltz” was performed was that my former teacher, Aldo Ciccolini passed away a few weeks ago. But there is also a real story about why I choose to perform this piece. I know that Schubert was his favorite composer and that he himself often performed this beautiful piece as an encore. Once I asked him if he owns the score; then he replied with a smile that he never possessed it, but only saw it once many years ago. I was very surprised to hear that, but it became almost incredible when he suggested writing it for me. Of course I accepted, and in the next one hour I saw how he wrote it without any hesitation and without helping himself with the piano. It was miraculous to see how this work appeared in front of me on the paper. I played it once for him right after, and I am still having his original copy. Last time I performed Schubert’s Waltz was about four years ago, and the day before the concert with NYFO I decided to perform this piece again for the memory of Aldo Ciccolini. I think this music will remain the most precious score both in my library and in my heart.”(Ivan Donchev)

Also, as New York Festival Orchestra has a mission to collaborate with visual art, the “Art Stand Project” was visible tonight, for audience and musicians, in the Merkin lobby. These were Japanese art works by the American artist, Robert Crowder (1911-2010), who created Japanese Byobu (screen) paintings. The displays are meant to bring attention to endangered birds of Japan and to the courageous life and work of Mr. Crowder, a missionary, then teacher, in North Korea, then Japan, during World War II. He became a prisoner of war, before he was deported back to the US. His hand-painted screens of the Japanese Crested Ibis and Japanese Crane were among those on display.

Kudos to all.

New York Festival Orchestra
Hideaki Hirai, Conducting
Ivan Donchev on Piano
"Mostly Beethoven Festival"
at Merkin Concert Hall
Courtesy of Saman Samadi

Ivan Donchev Takes a Bow
Hideaki Hirai, Conductor
New York Festival Orchestra
"Mostly Beethoven Festival"
at Merkin Concert Hall
Courtesy of Saman Samadi

Hideaki Hirai, Conducting
New York Festival Orchestra
"Mostly Beethoven Festival"
at Merkin Concert Hall
Courtesy of Saman Samadi

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at