Each January since 2016, Greater Columbus concertgoers have gone on a musical journey to Russia in the company of the Columbus Symphony.
During the past seven years, the symphony has presented a “Russian Winter Festival” highlighting the often-dramatic, always emotional compositions of Russian-born composers.
“This genre represents some of the most popular works of the classical literature that we have, from Tchaikovsky to Prokofiev,” said Daniel Walshaw, the symphony’s chief operating officer. “Compared to some other composers, these composers have had a long-lasting power in the history of music.”
Columbus Symphony:New musicians discuss importance of diversity
This year, however, the content of the annual program will be much the same, but — in an acknowledgment of the nearly year-long war between Russia and Ukraine — it will be presented under a different title.
The “Winter Festival” — presented without a reference to Russia in its title — will take place Friday and Saturday in the Ohio Theatre. The concert will be conducted by Music Director Rossen Milanov.
“We decided . . . this music comes from a certain time and a certain place, and often represents its own pushing back against oppressive authority,” Walshaw said. “It’s important that we do this music — that, we’re not going to back down on.”
The removal of the word “Russian” from the concert title was a kind of “quiet protest” against the war, Walshaw said.
“We’re not putting the company formally in any kind of public display of protest,” said Walshaw, noting that the symphony is made up of members with roots around the world.
“We have an incredibly international organization, as far as the employees that we have onstage, who have family all over the world,” he said.
What will remain constant, however, is the power of the underlying works, which are part of a unified musical tradition.
“In Europe, especially during the late 19th century, every region had its different voice,” Walshaw said. “(There were) Czech composers and German composers and French composers all creating their own cultural identity through their music.”
Many Russian composers drew upon the folk music of their country.
“You can’t get away from it in that style of music,” said Walshaw, noting that the formation of the Soviet Union consolidated this inward-looking tendency among many Russian composers.
“At a time when the Soviet Union was clamping down on anything international, (composers) were immersed in this only-Soviet, only-Russian history,” he said. “They were not permitted to even explore the music of the rest of the world.”
Columbus Winter Fun 2023:Area groups to perform classical music, jazz concert and ballet
To be performed Friday and Saturday is a suite from “The Snow Maiden” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and “Violin Concerto No. 1” by Sergei Prokofiev, the latter featuring guest violinist Bella Hristova, a native of Bulgaria.
The concluding work on the bill, however, reflects an artist grappling with government-imposed pressures: In “Symphony No. 6,” Dmitri Shostakovich produced a work far more abstract — and far less nationalistic — than had been anticipated by Soviet authorities.
“(Shostakovich’s) Fourth Symphony was considered too avant-garde, too far-reaching, and his Fifth Symphony was . . . written as an apology,” Walshaw said. “I think the Soviets thought that they had (Shostakovich) under their thumb at the time. And the Sixth Symphony came out and it was not at all what they thought they were going to get.”
No matter the title of the program, the concerts promise a musically rich and intellectually stimulating experience.
“We’ve all spent time in the house over the holidays, and it’s still cold outside . . . so let’s go experience the great joys of this city,” Walshaw said. “We have such wonderful art happening.”
At a glance
The Columbus Symphony will perform the “Winter Festival” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St. Tickets start at $9.84. For more information, visit columbussymphony.com. A dress rehearsal performance, open to the public and featuring complimentary coffee and donuts, will take place at 10 a.m. Friday and costs $14.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Symphony’s program of Russian music returns under new name