In the framework of “Music that Astonishes the World,” two gifted and seasoned musicians performed at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in McClean, Va. under the auspices of the Washington International Piano Arts Council, the President of Azerbaijan and the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Azerbaijan. Pianist Frank Conlon and Soprano Marina Shinko were invited by WIPAC to celebrate the observance of the 135th anniversary of the birth of Uzeyir Hajibeyov, often referred to as the founder of classical music of Azerbaijan.

Included in the program were works by Hajibeyov, entitled “Sevegili Janan” (Beloved Sweetheart), a song for soprano and piano, and a piano transcription from the Opera “Koruglu,” written in 1937. The works affirm Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s great talent as a melodist, with a vast opulence of musical sound that reflects the rich contrasts and colors of Azerbaijani culture.

Known as a country that is at the crossroads of Eurasia, Azerbaijani arts has over the centuries created a culture of its own that has flourished within the confluence of Asian, European and Islamic cultures. This is apparent in its folk arts, music and musical instruments. Indeed, Uzeyir Hajibeyov was one of the first artistic figures to create a marriage between the folk music and classical music genre. 

Pianist Frank Conlon, opened the recital with a performance of the Chopin Mazurka in B flat Major, Opus 7 No. 1.  The Mazurkas, often referred to as Chopin’s “journal intime” (intimate journal), rekindled the composer’s sounds and emotions of the country of his birth, Poland. He created the over 50 Mazurkas when in self-exile in France, where he died, never to return to the land of his birth. 

The Chopin Nocturne in C minor Opus 48 No. 1 was performed by pianist Conlon with clear musicality and a sense of devotion to the essence of the music.

The lissome stature of Marina Shinko disarmed this listener with her large and beautiful voice as she performed a group or works by Rachmaninov, “Oh Never Sing to Me Again,” and the “Harvest of Sorrow.” Her interpretation of “Oh Never Sing to Me Again” was the highlight of the recital, which she performed with great amplitude and conviction.

Pianist Conlon and soprano Shinko further distinguished themselves respectively with the Prelude and Nocturne for piano for the left hand by Scriabin, and the Modeste Mussorgsky song, “My Peasant Son.”

The Washington Piano and Arts Council is the parent organization of one of the oldest International Competitions of Classical Piano Music in the World. Each year a distinguished cadre of pianists converge on Washington DC to participate in this event. Sadly, COVID has interrupted the 18 consecutive years that this event has taken place, but hopefully the new year will bring music back to its devoted audience.

In attendance at the concert were WIPAC Founders, Chateau and John Gardecki, WIPAC Board President Portia Davidson, Michael Davidson, WIPAC sponsors Dr. Wayne and Mrs. Linda Sharp, Shalala Valiyeva and officers of the Azerbaijani Embassy, including Counselor Orkhan Zeynalov.

As a cultural exchange organization, WIPAC has devoted its efforts to celebrate the musical arts as a communicative tool to bring people together from different countries and cultures. Indeed, with the collaboration of such sponsors as the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan they have brought the world of Azerbaijani music to American audiences.

Azerbaijan has recently been in the news due to the conflict with the neighboring country of Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Hopefully, the peace accord that was reached will be revived.

The contributions that culture exchange has historically made in peace building cannot be understated. No clearer example of healing through culture between two rival countries, the Soviet Union and the USA was the “Van Cliburn phenomena” of the fifties. American Pianist Van Cliburn, the 1958 winner of the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow returned as a hero with a ticker tape parade to the USA. It was part of a movement toward a thaw in the Cold War, after a period of complete dissociation between two superpowers. Tours of the Bolshoi Ballet from the Soviet Union to the USA, still resound seventy years later.

Many other cultural exchange programs continue to ease and repair tensions between nations and WIPAC’s work has made a significant contribution to that end.

The next WIPAC Spring 2021 Piano Concert, “Prelude to Spring, will feature pianist Natalia Kazaryan, on Friday, March 19, 2021, 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm, at Saint Luke’s Catholic Church, 7001 Georgetown Pike, McLean, VA 22101.


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