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Russian cellist Antonov lights up the North Coast





The Russian cellist still isn't 30, but he has established a reputation for his mastery all over the world.


Astoria Music Festival audiences first saw him in 2009 when his debut concert on the North Coast threatened to lift the roof off the Liberty Theater. It was love at first sound. That memorable highlight atop nine years of magical memories is hard to top.


His third appearance at Friday night's opening concert of the 2011 was eminently satisfying. Antonov is a class act. He put on an instrumental masterclass playing Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto. The wonderful acoustics of the former 1925 Vaudeville house carried the notes from his instrument to the farthest-back seat in the balcony.


Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Dvorak have all contributed cello concerti, but this piece by the 19th-century French composer offers a challenge of continuity. Instead of separate movements, it is one, 20-minute stream of musical beauty.


Antonov shone. Like his two prior appearances, he bonded immediately with conductor Keith Clark, and demonstrating consummate timing, the cello and orchestra sang back and forth. It was music that resounded with quality, a true treat to the ear.


The standing ovation was deserved, prolonged and heartfelt. As before, Antonov soaked up the applause but repeatedly gestured with his bow to share it with his fellow musicians.


I suspect it's this kind of unassuming professionalism, coupled with the skill of learning his instrument from age of five from cellist parents, that spurs Coast residents to embrace him.


The feeling is apparently mutual. As he left with theater, his cello slung over his shoulder in a bulky black case, I thanked him for returning to Astoria, even as his career continues to soar. "Of course," he smiled, "I love coming here."

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