Nov. 13, 2003 – At the opening concert of the 17th annual Classics in the Garden season on Wednesday night in Tillett Gardens on St. thomas, there are bound to be some tears, but certain to be in evidence as well is a spirit of celebration.
Rhoda Tillett died in August after a long struggle with cancer, but her commitment to providing the community a venue for the enjoyment of classical music of the highest quality remains very much the guiding force of Arts Alive, and its board has put together a season of four recitals that promise to do her proud.
The first, on Wednesday, showcases the talents of Bella Hristova, an internationally acclaimed violinist who was born the year that Classics in the Garden was introduced.
At 17, Hristova has amassed the kind of credentials that make describing her as an "up and coming" classical superstar faint praise.
She was born in Bulgaria and began studying the violin at the age of 6. Barely into her teens, she moved to the United States to study at the Meadowmount School of Music in New York State, and then the University of Michigan School of Music. Last fall, at 16, she was accepted into The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Roger Lakins, Arts Alive's new executive director, says one of the members of the Curtis jury that evaluated the teen-ager described her to him as "touched by God."
He says her performances demonstrate "incredible technique — and depth behind it, the understanding that comes from deep inside of her." She has mastered the pyrotechnics of the classical repertoire with panache while also excelling at poetic works, he says.
And, Lakins adds, the program she has chosen for the Tillett Gardens concert will provide ample opportunity to show off all of those artistic gifts. Accompanied by Robert Conway on piano, she will play the "Rondo Brilliant" in B minor by Franz Schubert; the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Leos Janacek; "Ruce" (meaning "Hands"), a sonata for violin and piano, by Lubos Fiser; "Poeme for Violin and Piano" by Ernest Chausson; and the "Carmen Fantasy for Violin and Piano" by Pablo de Sarasate.
In 1999, Hristova was awarded first prize at the International Enesco Competition in Bucharest, Romania, and the grand prize in the Michigan American String Teachers competition. In 2000, she won the International Kocian Competition in the Czech Republic and was the youngest Meadowmount soloist in a concert of musicians performing the complete solo sonatas of Belgian violin virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe — a concert showcased in Strad Magazine.
In 2001, returning to the Kocian Competition, she swept three major awards including the grand prize. Last year, playing before an audience of 11,000 at the Tanglewood Music Festival, she was featured on Garrison Keillor's popular "A Prairie Home Companion" radio program. This season she is scheduled to tour with the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra and to make her Asian debut with the Korea's Daejeon Philharmonic.
Conway, who teaches and directs the piano program at Wayne State University in Detroit, has performed since 1989 as orchestral keyboardist and frequent soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He is also active as a chamber musician.
While the Classics series continues uninterrupted, there are changes as the new season begins. Concertgoers will find a new sound system and upgraded lighting in the garden and a newly paved parking lot. And there are plans to have a new stage in place by the second concert, in December. (For a preview of the whole season, see "4 recitals set for Classics series on St. Thomas".)
Lakins says he is "very encouraged" by the level of sponsorship for this season's concerts, calling it a "demonstration of the importance that people in the community place on what Rhoda started and sustained, and of how vital they think classical music is in the total life of the community."
The traditional option of pre-performance dining in the garden with concert seating at tables continues, but this year the food will be catered by Alexander's of Frenchtown, in cooperation with Jack's, the new restaurant in the garden. Alexander's owner Alex Treml says the menu for each concert will comprise a salad, a choice of three entrees and dessert.
This season the artists will not be repeating their programs a night later in a mirror series presented by the St. John School of the Arts, as has been the case for a number of years. Ruth "Sis" Frank, director of the Cruz Bay school, says it will be booking programs on its own "on an occasional basis."
Concert tickets are $30, or $108 for the season series. Dinner with any performance is an additional $30, excluding beverage service and gratuity. Reservations are required for dining and seating is reserved for concert-only patrons. To make reservations or obtain further information, call the Tillett Gallery at 775-1929.
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