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Seeds of Wilmington Music Festival Planted at Thalian Hall

October 25, 2017 | By Ken Hoover

The gorgeously restored antebellum theater, Thalian Hall, was host to the very first Wilmington Music Festival. The evening sparkled with enthusiasm from audience and performing artist alike. It seemed as though the stage itself had open arms, calling for chamber ensembles, baroque operas, recitals and much more

The concert began with the locally well-known pianist, Dr. Barry Salwen at the Steinway. He is Associate Professor of Music at UNCW and participates frequently in local events. His performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat, Op. 31, No. 3 illustrated dexterous finger work as well as the wide-ranging dynamics Beethoven employed as he moved more and more into the characteristics we now know as romanticism.

Next Salwen played the “Pizzicato Polka” by Johann Strauss, II. His fingers danced through this delightful piece with a light touch and a smiling attitude. 

Violinist, Alexei Mejouev, played the bewitching “Czardas” by Vittorio Monti, accompanied by Salwen. Mejouev is a native of Wilmington and is currently pursuing a music performance degree at UNCG.

Aza Sydykov took over as piano accompanist for the next two selections, both from the sensational world of grand opera. Dark and ominous chords introduced the aria “L’altra notte in fondo al mare” from Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito. The amazing Christine Weidinger sang Margherita’s distressing prayer for pity with awesome musical and emotional power.

Then, tenor Michael Rallis joined Weidinger for an emotional rendition of “O terra addio,” from Verdi’s Aida. Radames, sentenced to be sealed in a tomb, finds his love, Aida, has hidden herself in the tomb so that she might die with him. Together they sing this heart-wrenching farewell to earth. With the years of experience and wisdom that come with artistic maturity, this performance was something truly special.

Next we found Sydykov still at the piano keyboard. He played a delightful “Rondo alla Turca” by Mozart. It seemed he was a little boy playing with his toy. Mozart’s playful tune rolled off the pianist’s fingers effortlessly, or so it seemed. Next he played Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella” (The Little Bell). Arpeggio chords and twinkling runs flowed smoothly and captured Liszt’s musical onomatopoeic masterpiece.

Sydykov remained at the piano to accompany baritone Ronald Holmes’ convincing performance of “The Toreador’s Song” from Bizet’s Carmen. His warm and smooth voice holds much promise. 

Rallis returned to the stage with the Neapolitan serenade “Marechiare.” With almost as many words as a G & S patter song, this was a challenge well met and delightful to hear.

Clearly the hit of the evening was Rallis’ stirring performance of “Nessun dorma,” the bona fide showstopper from Puccini’s Turandot. The audience refused to wait for the accompanist (Sydykov) to finish the rousing orchestral conclusion and burst into applause and cheers at the triumphant “Vinceró” (I will win.)

 After intermission, violinist Michael Danchi wandered on stage as if in a trance. Startled when the audience applauded, he seemed to remember his violin, lifted it to his chin and played a rousing rendition of the traditional bluegrass classic, “Orange Blossom Special.”

 The lovely and charming Nikoleta Rallis graced the stage for two number, accompanied by Sydykov (her husband). From The Gypsy Princess, she sang a sort of farewell song to the mountains of her homeland. Rallis has the showmanship instinct of her father, as well as of her husband, and is very convincing in selling herself in song. This was reinforced in her next selection: “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway hit.

 Jonathan Levin is a versatile pianist who believes in the transcendence and power of music to enhance and change lives for the better. He played “Can’t Help Lovin’ dat Man of Mine” from Showboat by Jerome Kern in his own rich and virtuosic arrangement. This was followed by George Gershwin’s bouncy and infectious “I Got Rhythm.” Again, Levin’s own arrangement give sparkle and liveliness to the piece and to his performance.

Next on the program was “Glitter and Be Gay” from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. Bringing a box of props and a sly gleam in her eye on stage with her, soprano, Nancy King delighted us with her bewitching performance.

Once again violinist Danchi appeared on stage, performing with Levin two contrasting numbers from Porgy and Bess. First, “My man’s Gone Now,” Serena’s lamentation, followed by Sportin’ Life’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Music can reflect our mood and our attitude. More importantly, it can change our mood or our attitude.

Next Danchi partnered with Sydykov playing “Libertango” by the Argentine tango master, Astor Piazzolla. Ah, there has got to be a piece of tango in each of us. It is music like this that brings us together.

Franz Lehar provided the music. The Rallis/Sydykov family provided the artistic performance that brought it to life. “Yours is My Heart’s Delight” from The Land of Smiles was sung by Nikoleta Rallis with her father, Michael and accompanied by her husband. Aza Sydykov. It was charming.

And after this, Nancy King returned to the stage to join Rallis (father) in a rousing rendition of the drinking song from La Traviata. This is one of those tunes that go home with you – singing it, whistling it, humming it. You just can’t help it.

To top off the evening, everyone who had appeared on the program came back on stage for a rousing performance of “Funiculi, Funicula.” Let’s go up to the top, the song is saying. Perhaps it is the music that will take us up to the top of the mountain. Perhaps the music will inspire another Wilmington Music Festival and another and ….



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