To open its 68th season, the Billings Symphony is bringing in Sergey Pospelov, a finalist from the most famous violin competition in the world, the International Tchaikovsky Competition. Pospelov hails from Russia, a country with a tradition of incredible players.
“The style of playing is very distinctive,” said musical director Anne Harrigan. “It’s very passionate and virtuosic.”
Pospelov will perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Billings Symphony on Saturday, kicking off a season that ushers in change for the organization as they seek a new executive director. Former Executive Director Darren Rich accepted a position with the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra in Texas, and Leslie Blair was named interim executive director of the Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale.
Harrigan, who has been with the Billings Symphony for 15 years, is also the music director of the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Music Center of South Central Michigan, and she first worked with Pospelov at Battle Creek.
His Billings performance may be only his second with an orchestra in the United States, Harrigan said of the Saturday concert at the Alberta Bair Theater.
Harrigan described Pospelov as a consummate musician with a gorgeous sound. She has her eye out for charisma, especially when it comes to guest artists. “Technical virtuosity is the baseline,” Harrigan said, “but communication and the ability to mesmerize an audience is what I’m looking for, and at the same time be able to work well with an orchestra.”
And hopefully they’ve not yet been discovered. “I do look for people who are incredible musicians and incredible artists, without major management,” Harrigan said.
Though the Billings Symphony is the largest orchestra in Montana, it pales in comparison to major metropolitan orchestras with large budgets, such as Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.
“Our budget for soloists is easily one-one hundredth of theirs, so I look for younger artists who are just getting started but have incredible talent.”
Harrigan sought out Pospelov for his ability to communicate through music. “You can find someone who can play the piece beautifully, but if they are not speaking from their heart, it is not an effective performance. Music is a language, and when they perform they are speaking.”
Harrigan and Pospelov chose Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, which hasn’t been played in several decades in Billings by the Symphony.
While he’s in town, Pospelov will visit West High, Senior High, and Red Lodge Middle School as part of the Symphony’s Explore Music program, which will reach more than 35,000 people this year.
There are two other pieces on the program, including the opener “Circuits” by American composer Cindy McTee. Harrigan describes the piece as a high energy celebratory piece to kick off the season.
“This piece is very listenable and fun. It’s five minutes of nonstop kinetic energy. We’ll see how fast we can get it.”
The orchestra will follow this enthusiastic piece with "Dances of Marossék" by Zoltán Kodály. "Dances of Marossék" is an exotic piece of music based on Hungarian folk songs that originated in the Székeley province of Hungary.
“Zoltán was a Hungarian composer who traveled around countryside and wanted to capture the colors and flavors of folk songs,” Harrigan said. With this desire he captured the essence of folk’s spontaneity in a classical framework.
“It requires a lot of ability on the part of the players to make it feel like its improvised and play it how it’s written,” Harrigan said.
Following this piece, the Symphony will take an intermission, preparing for Pospelov’s performance in the second half.
“All three pieces work well together; they are focused on color, passion, energy — all the things you want for a season opener,” Harrigan said.