A Genre-Bending Band
Renowned Russian-born violinist bridges classical and rock worlds.
by Jim Motavalli
For The Fairfield County Weekly
May 18, 2006

Drummer Gregg Gerson, violinist Alexander Markov and bassist Ivan Bodley

Alexander Markov
The Russian-born violinist and Norwalk resident presents his "Rock Concerto" with the Greater Bridgeport Symphony at the Klein Auditorium, 910 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport, on Saturday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m., (203) 576-0263.

The relationship between rock 'n' roll and classical music has often been an uneasy one. If rock is all about freedom, then the tightly controlled world of the classical musician is its antithesis. Still, there have been many experiments that have tried to bring the two separate orbits together. The New York Rock Ensemble, formed in 1969, appeared in tails, if memory serves, and played rock songs with classical instruments, and vice versa. Member Michael Kamen remembers: "Although I was a Julliard student, the most creative thing I could possibly do was to start a rock 'n' roll band. I brought the oboe into the band not having any idea that the oboe was not a rock 'n' roll instrument. It seemed expressive enough to me."

The group was invited to one of Leonard Bernstein's concerts for young people with the New York Philarmonic. Kamen went on to write a slew of film scores, including work for Die Hard , Lethal Weapon , Band of Brothers , Open Range and Polyester.

The Ensemble paved the way for the Electric Light Orchestra, which further moved the collaboration along. Compositions for rock group and orchestra have tended to be a bit stilted, with alternating passages not quite cohering into an effective whole. One of the best works from the '70s is "Caravan" and the "New Symphonia," which treats the orchestra like a gigantic string section.

In recent years, the movement has been from rock to classical, as performers like Billy Joel, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd (an opera!) and Paul McCartney (calling on his "Sir Paul" persona) pick up the baton for music they've written.

Now we have the latest entry in the genre, as renowned Russian-born violinist (and Norwalk resident) Alexander Markov presents his "Rock Concerto." Written by Markov and James Remington, the piece features electric violin, rock band, choir and orchestra. The rock band features Ivan Bodley, a soul music veteran and Berklee grad, on bass, and veteran Gregg Gerson on drums. The 40-voice choir is under the direction of Stan Wietrzychowski of Trumbull, a professor at the Hartt School of Music.

"I share a passion and love for rock music, and I can bridge both worlds," says Markov. At Darien High School, he adds, he "was rebellious and wanted to try something new." That was rock, a long flirtation that led to the concerto. It has been performed only four times, and never before in the United States.

Markov, who studied under Jascha Heifitz, has a long history with GBS, making his debut with the symphony at age 18 in 1982 after winning the GBS Carlson-Horn Competition for Young Instrumentalists. He returned for guest appearances in 1984, 1995 and 2000. "Each time, the audience was fascinated by his boundless energy and superb stage presence," says Robert Tellalian of Stratford, chairman of the GBS board.

The first half of the May 20 concert will allow Markov to explore his classical roots with such famous Romantic-era works as Massenet's "Meditation" from his opera Thais , Sarasate's "Gypsy Airs" and Paganini's "Variations on One String 'G'" from Rossini's opera Moses in Egypt.

"We expect this concert to be a musical happening," comments Jena Maric, GBS executive director.

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