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Encore concert series brings the world to White Rock

Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet joins pianist-artistic director Eugene Skovorodnikov for season opener Oct. 19
The Rimsky-Korsakov Quartet

If you want to organize a series of concerts by high-level international concert artists in your own hometown, it's no small advantage being an internationally known concert artist yourself.

That's definitely the case with White Rock resident Eugene Skovorodnikov, whose appropriately named Encore Peninsula Concerts series is back for a must-see second season, starting Sunday, Oct. 19 at 3 p.m. at White Rock's First United Church (15385 Semiahmoo Ave.).

"A lot of the artists are colleagues," he said. "They know me personally and there is a mutual respect – they are coming here because they are my friends."

The pianist and music educator, once the youngest faculty member at the historic St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, has had a long and equally distinguished concert career since he left his native land in 1990.

That's included performances at the Theatre Bibiena (Mantova, Italy), the Grand Theatre (Shenzhen, China), and the Xinghai Concert Hall (Guangzhou, China).

He also spent 20 years on the music faculty at UBC before deciding to devote his time to the Vancouver International School of Music, for which he's both principal and co-founder, and to pursue more opportunities in an already busy international touring schedule.

In presenting the 2014 series of six concerts, Skovorodnikov, as founder and artistic director, is joined again by the City of White Rock as co-sponsors – he credits leisure services director Eric Stepura for his enthusiastic help on many of the logistics involved. And he emphasizes the intention of his series is to complement – not upstage  – the almost six decades-old tradition of the White Rock Concerts subscription series.

"We don't conflict in terms of days and the content is quite different," he said. "They have formal Friday night concerts while ours are on Sunday afternoons – it's a different ambience."

The fact that White Rock Concerts is sold out, once again, for the 2014-15 season, with a waiting list of over 300, is a healthy sign that the appetite for world-class classical music on the Semiahmoo Peninsula is still strong, he noted.

To further underline the non-competitiveness of the two series, piano duo Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann, recently named associate artistic directors of White Rock Concerts, will also be showcased as performers for Encore Peninsula Concerts' fourth presentation of the new season.

But the Oct. 19 concert will reunite Skovordnikov, as pianist, with some St. Petersburg Conservatory cronies – the internationally noted Rimsky Korsakov String Quartet.

The repertoire will be largely Russian, too – the ever fascinating, evocative music of Shostakovich, Glazunov and Liadov.

"I've known these people for many, many years and we've played together a few times," Skovoroidnikov said. "Fortunately they were already playing a few concerts in California and Oregon, and one in Seattle. All by myself, I couldn't afford to bring them in."

On Nov. 9, the series will present Italian pianist Francesco Nicolosi playing repertoire including Scarlatti and Sigismond Thalberg, a contemporary and rival of Liszt, credited by many with virtually creating the 19th century virtuoso piano idiom.

"Francesco is a dear friend and he's absolutely superb, a wonderfully sensitive pianist of sophisticated taste," Skovorodnikov said, adding that Nicolosi has become a foremost exponent of Thalberg's extravagant style.

"He lives in Naples – which is where Thalberg lived for the last 20-25 years of his life."

On Jan. 25 Skovorodnikov returns for a trio performance, with violinist Peter Krysa and Bulgarian cellist Dilianas Momtchilova, of moving works by Rachmaninov and Shostakovich.

"They're both fantastic chamber musicians," he said.

The Bergmann piano duo will perform Feb. 22, featuring pieces by jazz-inspired 20th century master George Gershwin, and original compositions by Marcel Bergmann.

"I love this duo – they're extremely dynamic and entertaining," Skovorodnikov said.

Distinguished Kosovar violinist Sihana Badivuku will be highlighted on March 29, joined by Skovorodnikov in a concert of sublime compositions by Beethoven and Brahms.

"She's a wonderful musician. We met a couple of years ago in Bulgaria, where, with two others we presented all 10 sonatas by Beethoven for piano and violin."

Concluding the 2014-15 season will be a concert by Paris-based pianist Hugues Leclere, focusing on the "impressionistic" pieces of fellow-countrymen Debussy and Faure.

"He's one of the leading French pianists, who for many years has distinguished himself through a project paying homage to Debussy."

Individual tickets ($25, seniors and students $22) or series subscriptions ($120, seniors and students $100) can be purchased from 604-541-2199, or at White Rock Community Centre, 15154 Russell Ave.