Thomas Davidson, Queen’s and McGill Universities
The 2014-2015 Faculty Artist Series at Queen’s University came to a successful close with an artistic performance by the esteemed Zuk Piano Duo on Sunday March 22, 2015. The Zuks provided an afternoon performance full of intimacy and personal charm. Their notable control of sound and nuance was projected with clarity in the wonderful new surroundings.
This was the inaugural season of the newly constructed, state-of-the-art Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, affectionately known as “The Isabel”. The exceptional acoustic and aesthetic environment quickly established the Isabel Concert Hall as a leading performance venue for Canadian and International artists. Since the Zuks have earned such a fine reputation on the national and international performing scene, it was most appropriate to have them conclude the series in this exceptional space.
Their program, inspired by folk elements, contained works by five Ukrainian composers. Two of these were composed specially for the Zuks: Five Ornaments by Halyna Ovcharenko (1997) and Ancient Dances of Verkhovyna by Yevhen Stankovych (2002). Both works employ folk elements in different ways. Ovcharenko used pre-Christian ritual chants in a highly atmospheric manner while Stankovych followed characteristic models of indigenous rhythmic songs and dances to create energy and drive.
There was also a performance of George Fiala’s, Ukrainian Dance (1979). The contrapuntal nature of the composer’s style was especially effective in the acoustic clarity of this new concert hall. Fiala, who has written works specifically for the Zuk Duo, has had a longtime personal and musical association with them since his arrival in Montreal in the ‘50s.
The other two Ukrainian composers were Ihor Bilohrud (Sonatina Op. 20) and Fedir Akimenko (Pièces ukrainiennes). The Bilohrud’s was probably the most “romantic” work on the program and the performance captured its song-like quality admirably well. The Akimenko’s opening pieces set an intimate and contemplative mood.
Dances from Greek Isles by Yannis Constaninidis, and Ronde villageoise by Clermont Pépin finished the first and second halves of the program respectively. Due to its lively nature, Ronde villageoise is a great work to end a program. Pépin, a Montrealer who passed away in 2006, was a valued colleague and personal friend of the Zuks. He was also welcomed as a Distinguished Michener Visitor by Queen’s University during the 2003-2004 academic session.