Dr. Barry Epperly, artistic director and conductor of the Signature Symphony at Tulsa Community College, leads the group in a practice for its Jan. 26 performance.
This month the Signature Symphony at Tulsa Community College will provide Tulsans a rare treat with its classical concert, “In the Land of Chopin.”
The inspiration for the Jan. 26 concert is a tenacious, Polish female composer, Grazyna Bacewicz.
Bacewicz is a kind of Polish heroine who gave secret underground violin concerts during German occupation in World War II.
Over the decades, her music found its way into a store in Krakow, Poland, where Signature Symphony Concertmaster Maureen O’Boyle discovered it through a curious chain of events.
O’Boyle and Dr. Barry Epperly, artistic director and conductor, were visiting Poland to play an American “Pops” concert in April 2010, but on the evening of their arrival, Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s plane crashed in western Russia, killing everyone on board. The concert was canceled.
“We were prepared to perform works by Bernstein, Copland, Brubeck and others ... but it was decided, rightly, that a ‘Pops’ concert was inappropriate,” Epperly says. “We were asked to lead a memorial concert for the victims and the nation; we played ‘The Mozart Requiem.’
“I conducted and Maureen played concertmaster for that very moving work that was broadcast throughout Poland.”
An exploding volcano in Iceland delayed their return to the U.S., leading Epperly and O’Boyle to Krakow to attend the funerals that took place the following week.
“Barry and I were delayed in Krakow when the volcano erupted,” O’Boyle says. “During that time, I found a music store that had a ton of violin concertos by Grazyna. I took them back to the hotel and started practicing them. I loved the music. It’s energetic, spritely and bright, not long-winded. It’s Bacewicz’s personality.”
Though works by the Polish-born Chopin will not be played, the performance’s focus will be on three uniquely Polish elements.
Bacewicz’s “Violin Concerto No. 3” serves as the centerpiece. The work received the Polish Ministry of Culture Award in 1955.
“(Bacewicz) wrote music that fit the country,” O’Boyle says. “There are folk influences and peasant dance characteristics — a rhythmic bounce.”
Epperly adds, “Grazyna is a treasure trove. Not many people have played (her music), and I don’t think Tulsa has ever heard it.”
Preceding Bacewicz’s concerto, guest conductor Piotr Sulkowski — one of Poland’s up-and-coming young conductors — will lead the symphony in “Orawa” by Wojciech Kilar, who has scored many movies, including Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist.”
“(‘Orawa’ is) tremendous,” Epperly says. “It is so intense and Piotr is so intense; I catch myself not breathing.”
Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” is the third work to be performed — “the war horse of all war horses,” according to Epperly — which also has Polish ties.
“World War II actually began when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 killing and incarcerating many of its citizens,” he says. “As the war
continued, the dots and dashes of the Morse code — three short and one long — was an ally victory rally. It was soon transferred to the
opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, ta-ta-ta-tah … It’s the most exciting symphony ever written.”
Also this month
• River North Dance Chicago The acclaimed River North Dance Chicago brings its jazz-based contemporary dance to Tulsa for two nights of energetic and gutsy repertoire in a sophisticated program presented by Choregus Productions.
8 p.m., Jan. 19, and 3 p.m., Jan. 20, at Cascia Hall’s Scianna Performing Arts Center, Helmerich Theatre, 2520 S. Yorktown Ave. Visit
www.choregus.org for tickets.
• “Time Stands Still” by Donald Margulies: A Heller Theatre Production Written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies, this provocative new play exposes the addictive nature of conflict. Sara, a wartime photojournalist wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq, returns home to a relationship torn by cynicism and secrets.
7:30 p.m., Jan. 25-26 and 29, and Feb. 1-2; and 2 p.m., Jan. 27; at Henthorne Performing Arts Center, 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Call 918-746-5065 for tickets.