I could cite Saturday, March 21, 2009 as an example of the cultural richness of our area. In the morning, I went to a meeting of the Asheville Area Piano Forum in Weaverville. In the evening, I drove 75 minutes “down the hill” to Greenville, SC for a Masterworks concert of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra.
The Asheville Area Piano Forum is similar to the piano teachers’ associations that other communities have, except the Asheville group accepts serious amateur pianists in addition to the professionals and educators. Fred Flaxman, host of the syndicated public radio program Compact Discoveries, presented the March 21 program. He discussed lesser-known composers, illustrating their music not with recordings (as he does on his program) but with live performances by various members of the Forum. Among the selections were Alexander Scriabin’s Etude in C# minor (Opus 2#1) played by Polly Feitzinger and Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand (Opus 9) played by Deborah Belcher.
Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872-1915) was a Russian pianist and composer whose compositions went through three distinct phases in his short life. His early style (Opus 1 through 29) was inspired by Chopin. He then moved to unusual harmonies and textures, ending in a period of atonal composition that presaged Arnold Schönberg.
Influenced by theosophy, mysticism and Russian Symbolism, he imagined an ultimate composition that was to include dance, aromas, light shows and music, integrated through his color circle (see illustration). The work was envisioned as being one week in length, to take place with the Himalayan Mountains as a backdrop. It was never written.
After a period of neglect, his music in recent decades has appeared frequently in piano recitals. His major works for orchestra are also still in the repertoire, although seldom scheduled.
The Greenville Symphony Orchestra is the only symphony orchestra in the region that regularly mounts a generous string section (over fifty) in a large hall with good acoustics (the Peace Center Concert Hall). Edvard Tchivzhel is music director. This fine Russian conductor, touring the United States with the State Russian Symphony Orchestra in 1991, defected with the help of friends in Greenville. He considers this community to be his American home. Since taking over the orchestra in 1999, he has built a fine ensemble. He frequently schedules sprawling romantic works. On March 21, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade was coupled with Alexander Scriabin’s Symphony #2 in C minor, Opus 29. For many of us, it was the first hearing of a significant but little-known symphony from Scriabin’s early romantic period.
How many other places in America could you start and end a Saturday with Alexander Scriabin?