In memory of former professor Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the University of Tulsa hosted a symphony featuring pieces composed to the tune of his poems.
The University of Tulsa and the TU Symphony Orchestra paid tribute to the late Yevgeny Yevtushenko on Monday, February 12, with a symphony in Lorton Performance Center. Almost a year after his death, his legacy is still being discussed, and his cultural impact still being measured.
The prolific poet, born in Zima, Siberia, wrote many beloved poems such as “That’s what is happening to me” and “Zima Station.” Many know him for his work “Babi Yar,” which earned him a nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The concert began with “Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn” composed by Brahms in 1873. The piece has a subtle cadence to with but still has a joyful mix of sounds that takes the listener on a journey. It ends in a triumph.
Next, the LPC’s projector screen lowered above the orchestra. A smiling Yevtushenko soon graced the screen while his son took the podium below to read one of his father’s poems. He read “The City of Yes and the City of No.” He read the first stanza in Russian and then continued in English. It felt just as beautiful as the music.
The next speaker, Noam Faingold, took the stage. Faingold, who composed the next piece being played, talked about the importance of community in arts. He remarked about how society, especially today, tries to say that art is not useful or important. He believes that Yevtushenko was a central person in Tulsa’s community.
After the poetry, the orchestra performed Faingold’s “A Defiant Poet: Elegy in Memory of Yevgeny Yevtushenko.” Faingold finished the piece last summer, after beginning its construction a week after Yevtushenko’s death in April.
Next came another Brahms piece: “Rhapsody, Op. 53.” Judith Pannill Raiford and a male choir accompanied the orchestra to sing the rhapsody. The words were adapted from a Goethe piece called “Winter Journey through the Harz Mountains.” The sounds blended well.
The orchestra finished the night out with another Brahms piece called “Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80.” It was triumphant and a fitting end to a night dedicated to the poet.
After the concert, Faingold commented on the inspiration for his work, saying that when Yevtushenko died, “His obituary was all over, and I sensed a slowness within his [and] our own community.” He also commented on the “immensity of having his figure” here in Tulsa due to his fame influence.
Faingold described the tone as “impressionistic” and “hazy” with a “climax [he] stole straight from pixies,” which is a band that influenced Nirvana.
He said that his piece, about 10-minutes long, took “eight hours a day for three months” to complete.
Faingold later commented on the importance of art in a community when he described art as a “canary in the coal mine.” As in, when things go wrong, art is the first indicator. The canary represents beauty and innocence but will suffer when something toxic is in the air.
Yevtushenko would heartily agree if he were here today, smiling to himself. After all, he said, “Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers.”