Violinist brings Hungarian folk music, great composers back to life

Violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv performs a piece at the Jorgensen Center for Performing Arts on Monday, March 22. Ivakhiv is an assistant professor of violin and viola and head of strings at the University of Connecticut. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

Violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv, accompanied by pianist Magdalena Stern-Baczewska, brought stunning energy and grace to the Jorgensen Center for Performing Arts Monday evening as they performed a two-hour set of pieces by Béla Bartók, Ludwig van Beethoven, Ivan Karabits and César Franck.

Ivakhiv, an assistant professor of violin and viola and head of strings at the University of Connecticut, opened the night with Bartók’s “Six Romanian Dances,” a intricately playful take on traditional Hungarian folk music.

Bartók, born in Hungary, traveled the Romanian countryside from 1910 to 1912 to transcribe the music of the country’s peasant flutists and Romani, or “gypsy,” fiddlers for wider consumption.

“In the 19th century, folk music, song and dance became a strong mark of national identity,” professor of music history Glenn Stanley told the audience during his pre-concert talk.

The music was often sentimentalized and made more regular to appeal to the cultural elite of the time, Stanley explained, but the “Six Romanian Dances” still contain echoes of their original creators.

Playing multiple strings at once and creating a quivering harmonics by not stopping the strings fully, for example, are both hallmarks of authentic folk music that remain Bartók’s collection.

Despite the six dances’ varied origins, this shared style made each of the songs seem to flow naturally into the next.

After his concert talk, Stanley had nothing but praise for Ivakhiv as a performer and a professor.

“She’s extremely passionate, she throws herself into things and she plays extremely passionately and extremely personally,” Stanley said, adding that he was a member of the search committee responsible for bringing the Ukrainian violinist to UConn.

While the “Six Romanian Dances,” at times gleefully liberating and at others breathtakingly intense, was certainly captivating, Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata” was the climax of the night.

Stanley, for one, had no reservations about declaring it his favorite piece of the performance, if not the best sonata of all time.

“It’s just one of the greatest pieces for violin or piano that’s ever been written, it’s a titanic piece,” Stanley said. “It requires incredible technique, incredible stamina for both the violinist and the pianist and it’s an absolutely thrilling experience.”

Manchester residents Lana and Eugene Babij both agreed that the “Kreutzer Sonata” made for one of the most powerful moments of the night.

“It was exquisite,” Lana Babij said. “She seemed so relaxed, which is what was amazing.”

Eugene Babij said he had seen Ivakhiv before at a larger venue, but that Jorgensen’s concert hall, which held only 200 or so people Monday night, made his experience with the music more personal.

“This was nice because it felt very intimate,” Eugene Babij said.

Ivakhiv, who has appeared on stages across North America, Europe and Asia, released her first solo album, “Ukraine: Journey to Freedom – A Century of Classical Music for Violin and Piano,” in February 2016.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.