Congratulations to pianist Svetlana Velichko, who gave her first public performance 70 years ago today in the auditorium of her music school. Moscow had 12 such schools for talented youth, even while World War II was raging. This concert was actually a competition between the cream of the school, pianists, string, wind and brass players.
"I remember (a) long table for (the) jury and many people," she said. "I won all three rounds."
That put her in position to represent the school in the citywide competition in June of the following year. Moscow Philharmonic Hall -- now Tchaikovsky Hall -- was the setting. The elegant venue sat about 2,000 patrons in white chairs upholstered in blue velvet. There was a problem, Velichko said, in that she had nothing appropriate to wear for the gala event.
"The war was still going and life was still very tough. It was impossible to buy anything for 'dressing up' in stores. So my mom sewed for me (a) white silk dress from her old blouse." Her piano teacher called friends and other teachers to find a pair of black shoes in little Svetlana's size.
The concert was sold out and, at age 7, Velichko was the youngest competitor. She won that contest as well and was accepted into the Central School for Specially Gifted Children, the pre-college school for the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where she became a teacher starting in 1962.
She moved to Anchorage in the 1980s and has since taught and concertized here. At 3 p.m. today she'll be joined by baritone Anton Belov in a recital at Wilda Marston Theatre, on the ground floor of Loussac Library. The program will feature music by Brahms, Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky and Mussourgsky. Tickets are $25.
With regard to the old photo that accompanies this article, Velichko says it was taken at the June 1944 gala by a reporter for an American magazine. The reporter took more photos of her and her family and promised to send them a copy of the magazine, "but it never happened. Who knows why?"
Busy Book Week
Alaska Book Week is under way and, with it, a slew of readings, signings and more. The full schedule of events can be found at alaskabookweek.com. Here's a quick look at some of them.
- 1-6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6. Alaskan Authors Showcase, Barnes and Noble. Writers include Mary Ann Poll, Don Rearden, Sherry Simpson, Lyle O'Connor, Dan Bigley and Debra McKinney. (By the way, mention Alaska Book Week or 49 Writers at the register when you purchase a book at the Anchorage Barnes and Noble store through Oct. 12 and a percentage of your entire sale will go back to 49 Writers to support Alaska Book Week.
- 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8. Iditarod veteran Jim Lanier, author of "Dog Mushing: Beyond Ophir: Confessions of an Iditarod Musher," at UAA Campus Bookstore. He'll be accompanied by "his four-legged guest, May."
- 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8. Christine Byl, author of "Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods," at Barnes and Noble. Don't miss her while she's in Anchorage!
- 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9. Alex Hills of UAA and Carnegie Mellon University, author of "Geeks on a Mission," at UAA Campus Bookstore.
- 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9. Don Rearden, author of "The Raven's Gift," at Girdwood Library.
- 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9. Kaylene Johnson and Dick Griffith, co-authors of "Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith," at Wilda Marston Theatre in Loussac Library.
- 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9. Eowyn Ivey, author of "The Snow Child," in the Ann Stevens Room at Loussac Library.
- 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10. Publishing Workshop with Ali McGraw of Indigo Editing & Publishers, sponsored by the Alaska Writers Guild, at Alaska Pacific University. $35 for members of Alaska Writers Guild and 49 Writers; $50 for non-members.
- 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10. Family Reading Night with Deb Vanasse, author of "Black Wolf of the Glacier," at Baxter Elementary School.
- 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11. Don Rearden, author of "The Raven's Gift," at APU's Grant Hall.
- 11 a.m. Saturday 12th, Oct. 12. LaVon Bridges, author and illustrator of "Alaska Animals We Love You," at Barnes and Noble.
- 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. Sherry Simpson, author of the upcoming book "Dominion of Bears," at Muldoon Library.
- 2 p.m. Saturday 12th, Oct. 12. Kim Sherry, author of "Raven's Friends: Alaska Animals Far and Wide," at Barnes and Noble.
- 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. Great Alaska Bookfair and Alaska Book Week Grand Finale, in APU's Carr Gottstein Atrium.
And in Fairbanks, University of Alaska Press will host a housewarming party at their new home, 1760 Westwood Way (across from the Artisan's Courtyard), 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10. All books will be 25 percent off. For more information, call 907-474-5832.
Offbeat concert at UAA
We've had an active fall for chamber music, beyond the usual Autumn Classics offerings. There was -- to name a few -- what was billed as the Alaska premiere of the staged version of Stravinsky's "Soldier's Tale" at UAA last month, the Linden String Quartet at the Discovery Theatre, courtesy of the Anchorage Concert Association, and the Anchorage Festival of Music showcase of baroque music by women composers.
Next Sunday, returning to the UAA, there'll be another very intriguing program presented by music faculty and top students. Violinist Lee Wilkins, who has organized it, calls the concert "Deja entendu," suggesting that one might hear music that sounds familiar, but remains unidentifiable. The program will include work by Elgar, Vivaldi, Shostakovich and Ibert. We're particularly looking forward to hearing the incidental music from "Much Ado About Nothing" by Erich Korngold, a pre-Hollywood opus from the hand that later produced scores for films like "Anthony Adverse," "The Sea Hawk," "Kings Row" and "The Adventures of Robin Hood." It's contemporary with his best known "serious" work, the 1920 opera "Die tote Stadt," and was resurrected this year to accompany a television production of Shakespeare's play. The program will start at 4 p.m. General admission is $18, available at uaatix.com.
Opera: One up, one down
Two pieces of news from afar caught our attention last week. First was the bankruptcy of venerable New York City Opera (posted at adn.com/artsnob). The other was an announcement from Seattle Opera that the company balanced its budget for last season and eliminated a deficit accumulated in 2011-12. Seattle benefited from good fundraising -- it helps to have the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on your side -- but also took some strong medicine, reducing the number of performances and productions, eliminating staff, imposing salary cuts and furloughs. But NYCO also tried aggressive fundraising and cost-cutting before folding. What made the difference?
For one thing, New York buffs have options; Seattle Opera stands alone in its region. Outgoing director Speight Jenkins' special and risky project, a Wagner "Ring" Cycle, also helped, bringing the company $11.2 million during August and another estimated $30-million plus windfall for Seattle hotels and restaurants.
But we should also look at the programming. NYCO pushed a lot of rarities and contemporary work. Sometimes this worked, as when Beverly Sills revived Donizetti's historical melodramas. New opera after new opera fizzled, however; of all the new work NYCO presented over 70 years perhaps only Carlyle Floyd's "Susannah" will endure. Writing in the New Yorker, critic Alex Ross evaluated the company's swan song, "Anna Nicole," as a "mesmerizing grotesquerie, one of the more deftly constructed operas to have come along in recent years. Yet it never fully comes to life as musical drama." Something similar might be said for the title character, recently dead celebrity Anna Nicole Smith, and the great bulk of modern opera: weirdly alluring, but fatally tuneless with dull stories and clumsy storytelling.
A few years back I attended NYCO's production of Richard Rodney Bennett's atonal "Mines of Sulfur," which combined hard-to-hear and unmemorable singing with a plot whose outcome could be guessed two minutes into the show and whose characters exhibited zero development over the next two hours. At intermission, people behind me, who had paid $100 for their seats, talked about leaving. They came back because, they told me, "We're City Opera subscribers. We're used to hearing a lot of bad music."
Seattle, on the other hand, trotted out a 2012-13 season straight out of opera's greatest hits list: "Suor Angelica," "Fidelio," "Cenerentola," "La Boheme." The most recent pieces were "La voix humaine" (1959) and "Turandot" (1926).
Conventional? Conservative? Cautious? Those terms are what philosophers might dismiss as "constructs," artificial labels, what composer Nico Muhly calls "a taxonomy that's very useful for dead things" in the latest issue of Opera News. The dollar and cent reality is that New York's "people's opera" is gone and Seattle's company starts its 50th season in solid financial shape.
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.