Celebrated Russian pianist coming for children's concert

Fitenko joins conductor Bakenhus to bring rich pedigree of musical talent to Symphony League event

By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Mar. 4, 2007 - The North East Texas Symphony Orchestra has pulled out all the stops for their Children's Concert this year — two distinguished musicians will travel to Sulphur Springs, one to lead the orchestra and one to add a touch of international panache to the show.

Maestro Douglas Bakenhus, of Natchitoches, La., is no stranger to local audiences, serving as the music director and conductor of the North East Texas Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Bakenhaus will once again lead the orchestra, with Russian pianist Nikita Fitenko, also of Natchitoches, as soloist for the Symphony League's annual event, set for Friday, Mar. 9, at 1 p.m. at the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center.

"It's heartening and a little hard to believe that many music professionals will go out of their way to perform a concert for a bunch of very young kids — for not much money and a simple spaghetti lunch," said Tom Stewart, president of the Sulphur Springs Symphony League, the organization promoting the event. "But believe it, because they do it all the time. Musicians are good people."

In addition, to his conducting duties, Dr. Bakenhus also teaches bassoon, music theory, and conducting at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.

His musical pedigree is rich and diverse. He hold bachelor's and doctoral degrees are from the University of Texas at Austin, a master's degree in conducting from Texas A&M University-Commerce, and has taken additional graduate courses in conducting at the University of Michigan.

According to the university's website, Dr. Bakenhus has taught at the college level as a band director and professor of bassoon at the University of Mississippi and at Texas Lutheran University. He recently served as music director and conductor of the Austin Philharmonic and was a public school orchestra director at Crockett High School in Austin and at Langham Creek High School in Houston.

Throughout his teaching career, Dr. Bakenhus has remained active as a guest conductor, clinician, and bassoonist. He recently toured Canada, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic with the NSU Faculty Woodwind Trio.

Dr. Fitenko has performed recitals and with orchestras in the former Soviet Union, Europe, and South and North America. He has appeared as a soloist with such orchestras as St. Petersburg Capella Symphony, Belarus National Philharmonic, St. Petersburg State Conservatory Orchestra, Lewisville Symphony, Rapides Symphony, State Hermitage Orchestra and Northwestern Symphony Orchestra.

While performing a wide and diverse repertoire, Nikita Fitenko is an acknowledged master of Russian piano music. Since 1997, he has been under contract with Altarus Records to record a series of works by leading Russian composers of the 20th century. His initial recording of solo piano works by Georgy Sviridov (1997) and his two-CD set of music by Sergei Slonimsky (2000) have garnered rave reviews from the international music press.

A native of St. Petersburg, Nikita Fitenko graduated from the St. Petersburg State Conservatory with a citation for excellence, an honor given to only five other graduates in the last 50 years. After receiving the Anton Rubinstein Memorial Award, he came to the United States, pursuing his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of North Texas in Denton.

Dr. Fitenko has won numerous competitions including the Byelorussian International Piano Competition, the Beethoven International Piano Competition, and the Houston Symphony National Young Artist Competition.

Since 2002, Dr. Fitenko has been an artistic director of the Louisiana Piano Series International, one of the most interesting and diverse classical piano series in the United States.

Dr. Fitenko is currently an assistant professor and coordinator of the keyboard area at the Northwestern State University of Louisiana. Much in demand as a coach and accompanist, he often performs collaborative recitals with his colleagues at Northwestern in Natchitoches as well as in Shreveport and Alexandria.

Dr. Fitenko is scheduled to perform part of the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2, movements II and III the piano for the children's concert, among other pieces.

This year's concert program also includes Haydn's "Symphony No. 88 in G Major, Movement IV," Russell Peck's "The Thrill of the Orchestra," Rossini's "Overture," "The Barber of Seville," and portions of the Shostakovich piano concerto.

One of the unique aspects of the orchestra's program for children is the opening number for each concert. This year, the selection will be Purcell's "The Fairy Queen."

"In keeping with our practice of the last several years, an opening selection will have the most accomplished students in the SSISD Strings Program playing alongside the professionals," Stewart said. "The young musicians are jazzed about the experience, of course, but the pairing has a profound affect on the audience, too. When a 9-year-old kid in the audience sees 16-year-old kids up on the stage creating something complex and beautiful, he gets a glimpse of the amazing choices the future holds for him."

Third, fourth and fifth-grade students from all over the county will be bused to the Civic Center, usually bringing $1 for admission.

"We send forms home with the students so the parents will know what's coming up," Stewart said. "We tell them we'd be delighted if they want to send a dollar along, but we don't require money to attend the concert."

While the League appreciates the money brought in by the kids, Stewart says, "It costs us more like $7 per person. The bulk of the money comes, as always, from our treasury."

The North East Texas Symphony Orchestra is rare in its ability to bring quality programs to a "geographically unique" area, Stewart said.

"How many places like this, not near a major Metroplex, have a concert like this for young school-age children?" he asked. "Probably none. Something like this is not going to happen unless there is support in the area for it. And that support comes from our memberships."

Memberships range from as low as $15 per year for an individual, $25 for families, and go up to $500-$1,000 for the "Conductors Circle."

For more information on how to become a member of the Sulphur Springs Symphony League, call 903-885-5768 or contact them at P. O. Box 251, Sulphur Springs, TX 75483.

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