When I first moved to Riyadh a year ago, I didn’t really expect to attend any classical music concerts. I just didn’t picture Riyadh as the hot spot for traveling professional classical musicians. Fortunately, access to iTunes, complemented by my personal CD collection (outdated I know) has allowed me to get my classical music fix. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to a piano concert held at the home of the French Ambassador.
The setting of the Ambassador’s home was perfect for an intimate performance of passionate Russian music. About two hundred expats and Saudis sat on chairs around a beautiful baby grand piano. Galina Besner presented a beautiful program highlighting Russian composers.
Galina Besner was born in Russia and has studied piano since she was six years old. She has worked with a number of orchestras in Russia, Pekin, and France. Galina taught music at an international school in Pekin, China. She is a skilled accompanist as well as a talented concert pianist in her own right. This was Ms. Besner’s first performance in Riyadh.
Ms. Besner compiled a program of music from the Russian masters Rachmaninov, Tychaikovski, Alexandre Scriabine, and Chostakovitch. Rather than playing long piano pieces from each composer, she played extracts from a variety of pieces, displaying a breadth of knowledge and repertoire. Ms. Besner remarked on the contrast of playing Russian music in Saudi Arabia. Russia and Saudi Arabia are two very different countries in culture, weather, music, and history. I felt Ms. Besner presented the best of her home country with passion and sensitivity to the culture of Saudi Arabia.
One of Ms. Besner’s more unusual choices was to highlight selected works from the composer Alexandre Scriabine. Alexandre Scriabine was almost a revolutionary in the way he looked at music and the tonal scale. He was extremely innovative as well as very controversial. Scriabine eventually developed a musical system which was dissonant and tones were associated with colors. Scriabine was influenced by mysticism and attempted to use his music to articulate that.
Ms. Besner played her music with sensitivity and excellent technique. She ended the evening with a selection of Chostakovitch pieces, highlighting the humor and irony of Mr. Chostakovich’s compositions. It was nicely rounded performance, showing the power of music to convey ideas, emotions, and experiences.
Following the performances, guests enjoyed appetizers, bite-size desserts, and drinks. It was particularly enjoyable to be outside in the evening under the moon. It was a lovely evening filled with beautiful music in an intimate setting.