By Ethan Sadoian

The Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra will close out its 2017-2018 concert season on the first weekend of June with “An American Dream,” a concert of music by American composers.

A featured highlight of the program will be Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade after Plato’s “Symposium,” for violin soloist and orchestra. “Unfortunately, this is the only piece [Bernstein] wrote for violin and orchestra, we don’t have another piece to compare it with,” says Brunilda Myftaraj, the Virtuosi’s concertmaster and featured soloist on the Serenade, who selected the piece for performance in commemoration of 2018 being the centennial year of Bernstein’s birth.

Myftaraj is already very familiar with the style and genre, having produced a CD of music for violin by American composers entitled The American Pie. The CD represents the beginning of an “American dream” that will culminate in her performance of the Serenade: “When I released the American Pie CD, I did have [this performance] in mind; I wanted to release a CD prior to this, and basically finish this ‘American Dream’ with Bernstein’s Serenade,” she explains.

Though this will be the first time Myftaraj performs the Serenade, her experience recording her CD gives her a familiarity with Bernstein that she draws on as she prepares to perform the Serenade: “I always want to play Bernstein, or any American composer. That’s why I produced the CD. There I do play West Side Story, and that’s where I see a lot of similarities as far as [Bernstein’s] style goes, the melodic intervals and the repetitive themes that come back throughout the piece.”

It’s these intervals that make the piece a formidable challenge for the violin soloist. “It’s very difficult for the performer,” Myftaraj says. “As beautiful as the piece is, it just never sits well in your hand. You have the need to constantly tend to every note, every second, you can’t really rest anywhere. I can’t say that many people do perform this piece, because it’s very difficult! Both for the orchestra, and for the soloist. What makes it really difficult in one of the movements is the orchestra mimics the soloist exactly; it’s like a dialogue, it’s supposed to be humorous, but once you play it, it doesn’t feel like humor! … But nevertheless, it’s really a beautiful piece, and I’m so fortunate to be able to do it, to have a great orchestra to do it with, and to play it also in a year that’s [Bernstein’s] centennial year.”

Though Bernstein is known and beloved to audiences through his music to West Side Story and other Broadway musicals, Myftaraj is sensitive to the potentially divisive impression Bernstein’s more artistically-inclined works has on audiences. Bernstein himself was sensitive to it, referring to the Serenade as “funny modern music” in a letter to his wife. Some of the other selections on the program for the upcoming concert, however, are more widely familiar and accessible to audiences. The “pathos and cathartic passion” of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings has been heard in numerous soundtracks for Hollywood movies (most notably in Oliver Stone’s Platoon), and as a requiem for dozens of state funerals and memorials. George Gershwin’s fresh and upbeat jazz and blues influences can be heard in a string orchestra arrangement of highlights from An American In Paris. Rounding out the program is a performance of living Italian-American composer Ernesto Ferreri’s Hymnus ad cosmos.

American classical music does not have the depth of age that European classical music does. In its place, however, American music has a uniqueness inherent in both 20th century music, when American classical music really began to come into its own, and in the broad array of influences exhibited by the melting pot of American composers in the 20th century. And this diverse melting pot—from the conservativism in Barber’s Adagio, to Bernstein’s more esoteric Serenade, to the eclectic popular influences in Gershwin’s music—is reflected in the Virtuosi’s presentation of “An American Dream.”