in: Reviews

July 13, 2010

Making ‘Big Daddy’ proud

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Due to a family  emergency, the scheduled BMInt staff reviewer was unable to cover the concert reviewed below. The following review has been re-published here with permission from The Newport Daily News.

“All in the Family” was to have been a celebration of the 80th birthday of the Newport Music Festival’s longtime artistic director, but as family friend and principal violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky told the audience at The Breakers on Saturday night, life has a way of taking unexpected turns. Mark P. Malkovich III died at age 79 in a car accident in May in his home state of Minnesota, where he was helping to move his older sister’s belongings. His absence loomed large at The Breakers, both during the pre-concert gala and the concert itself. He had planned the evening’s birthday repertoire to highlight three generations of the Sitkovetsky/Davidovich family, including the North American debut of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s daughter, soprano Julia Sitkovetsky.

Although pianist Bella Davidovich, the first generation of the musical family, was unable to participate in the program because of illness, she telephoned her son mid-program “to find out how her granddaughter did,” Dmitry Sitkovetsky said. He also told the audience that his mother was remembering her own debut on stage at The Breakers 31 years ago, a debut that Malkovich had arranged. Julia Sitkovetsky, responding emotionally to a standing ovation after a tour-de-force presentation that was the entire first half of the program, told the audience: “I feel that I’ve made Big Daddy proud. I know he is here somewhere.”

Indeed, it was difficult not to see him in all the familiar places that he was so much a part of during his 36-year tenure. Esther Bernstein of Newport, a longtime festival volunteer, said: “When I walked into The Breakers, when I saw where he usually sits on the side, it crushed me. All of sudden I felt it, and I knew I would never see him again. He added a lot of class and culture to Newport.” Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano presented the director’s widow, Joan Malkovich, with a proclamation declaring July 10, 2010, as Dr. Mark Malkovich III Day in Newport. “We have lost a consummate artist,” Napolitano said, embracing Joan Malkovich to applause from the audience.

The evening’s program was an interesting mixture of the old and the newer, the familiar and the not so well known. Julia Sitkovetsky — accompanied by her father on violin and pianist Konstantin Lifschitz, who substituted for Bella Davidovich — led with three selections by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The first work was a brief piece in German lamenting an unfaithful lover, and the second a more lyrical one lamenting the transitory nature of life. In the third work, L’Amero saro Costante, from Il re pastore, the fullness of her voice and talent began to emerge, most evident in the middle and upper registers. Her notes were clear and true, and her voice was seamlessly modulated, easily filling the large room.

Sitkovetsky is an attractive, somewhat diminutive figure, and she wore a long white flowing skirt and a strapless black top. Her dark hair was pulled into a knot at the back, making her oval face and large expressive dark eyes most apparent — noteworthy because she used her face and eyes continuously as an integral part of her vocalizing. This stood her in great stead as she presented ten Hermit Songs by Samuel Barber, based on poems written by Irish monks and scholars from the 8th through the 13th centuries. She was accompanied by pianist John Lenehan. In each of the songs, presented in English with distinct enunciation and crisp delivery, she captured the essence of the presenting narrator, and stayed in character until the very last note faded. Her vivacity, acting ability and body language gave life to songs that in the hands of a lesser artist could have fallen short of audience engagement; instead, her personable handling of them drew listeners directly into the moment, whether of comedy or pathos.

The last song, The Desire for Hermitage, was especially moving, ending with the words: “Alone I came into the world, alone I shall go from it.” Moments passed in silence as she bent slightly backwards, motionless, before the spell was broken and the audience responded. Two gypsy melodies by Antonin Dvorak provided more opportunities to enjoy her stage presence, at times mercurial, at other times intense and piercing. The second of two Aaron Copland adaptations of poems by Emily Dickinson (“Nature, The Gentlest Mother” and “Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?”) provided an opportunity to experience the full reach of her voice on the last sentence — “Did I sing too loud?” — which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. She concluded her debut with two songs by Charles Edward Ives, Serenity, and Songs My Mother Taught Me.

The second half of the program brought pianist Gergely Boganyi to stage, playing three Chopin pieces — two mazurkas and a waltz — with passion and intensity. The artist will play the entire Chopin repertoire during the festival, which runs through July 25. The concluding work on the program — Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata in D minor, Op. 12, No. 1 — was executed beautifully by Dmitry Sitkovetsky on violin and Lifschitz on piano. The duo invested the piece with emotion and exuberance. Both artists, consummately skilled in their instruments, delivered the strains of the sonata with seemingly effortless ease and equal dynamics. Dmitry Sitkovetsky in particular tickled the audience by being a bit cavalier and playful with both his violin and his playing of it. One concertgoer was heard saying to his wife with a chuckle, “I never saw anyone handle a violin like that.”

An encore demand provided Dmitry Sitkovetsky with the opportunity to play Tchaikovsky’s Song Without Words, arranged by Fritz Kreisler and introduced to him by Mark Malkovich many years ago, he said. Subsequently, it had become a family favorite. “From our family to the Malkovich family,” he said, ending the evening on an uplifting note as the dulcet lilting melody filled the room. Patrons were given a memorial brochure celebrating Malkovich’s life as they left the concert.

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