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Russian Cellist Sets Astoria's Liberty Theater Ablaze





The applause at the Liberty Theater in downtown Astoria was loud, sustained, heartfelt and deserved Saturday night.


Patrons had packed into the historic remodeled theater expecting to be blown away by a large-scale production of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Maestro Keith Clark was conducting a 40-member orchestra, four soloists and no fewer than four choirs from Astoria, Cannon Beach and Scappoose.


It was a thrilling and uplifting rendition of one of the most famous pieces in the classical repertoire.


But it was not the only tasty fare on the menu.


The applause for Russian cellist Sergey Antonov, who performed the concert opener, threatened to lift the roof off. The wild scenes of jubilation at a shared musical experience of considerable magnitude were more akin to a stadium rock concert than a classical rendition in a modest-sized theater in small-town Western America.


Music lovers who missed the concert, or whose appetites were whetted by the KCPB live radio broadcast, have one more chance to hear Antonov at the festival. He will perform as guest artist at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Liberty Theater.


That concert features pianist and director Cary Lewis and a handful of soloists performing work by Stephen Paulus and Heitor Villa-Lobos, as well as the world premiere of a work by Charles Knox. It will conclude with Dvorak's Piano Quartet No. 2.


At 26, Antonov already has an international pedigree, having played all over Europe, the Middle East and the United States. The son of two cellists, he was making his West Coast debut Saturday.


Clark, leading his seventh annual Astoria Music Festival, said in an interview on KMUN's After Deadline talk show that he believes Antonov is the next Yo-Yo Ma. When the interview was taped, it had sounded like exaggeration; Yo-Yo Ma would make any serious critic's top cello players in the world.


But Sergey Antonov didn't disappoint.


He played Tchaikovsky's Rococco Variations with verve, blending well with the woodwinds and especially the flute, in his countryman's playful pieces which are like a ballet sans dancers.


His style was to coax the notes from his cello by wrapping himself around the instrument, tilting his head low over the strings, dropping his left hand as low as it could slide, fluttering like a butterfly to produce high notes of such purity that soared to the back of the balcony.


Music writers often resort to hyperbole when trying to describe soloists. They often say the instrument "became part of the musician," or "it was caressed like a lover." No. Neither seems right for Antonov. Let's say instead that he was in command of his instrument. Like an unbeatable Wimbledon tennis star, he was at the top of his game.


But Antonov was no prima donna. Right from the start of the eight pieces that form the Rococo Variations he was attentive to conductor Clark's baton. He took the audience on an unforgettable musical journey, enjoyed and deserved his applause, but shared it.


As the loud and prolonged clapping rang around the theater - no one remained seated - Antonov was the first to turn and acknowledge the Astoria Music Festival orchestra. This had been a team effort; his gesture was gracious and unassuming.


When Yo-Yo Ma has hung up his bow and this Russian is still entertaining the world, every one of the 30 musicians who were on stage Saturday night will be able to say "I played with Sergey Antonov when he was just a young man.

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