Festival Baltimore at UMBC to offer unusual programming

Asiya Korepanova, pianist, founder of Festival Baltimore.

Asiya Korepanova has always been a little, well, different.

The pianist, who had the idea for an unusual classical music festival that launches Friday at University of Maryland Baltimore County, found an off-beat pastime during her childhood in Izhevsk, capital city of Russia's Udmurt Republic.


"As an 11-year-old girl, my best way to spend free time was to listen to Mahler's Eighth Symphony three times in a row," Korepanova says. "I really enjoyed loud and intense music."

That symphony, which takes around 90 minutes and calls for enormous orchestral and vocal forces, was just a warm-up.


"I am passionate about large-scale works," Korepanova says. "Girls go shopping for shoes. I was in CD stores collecting recordings. At the peak of my excitement, I had 49 versions of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony."

An early taste for Mahler and Bruckner left a mark on the now 33-year-old Korepanova.

"I am passionate about large-scale works," the pianist says. "I thought if I were ever to invent a festival, I would want the programs to be big."

That notion led to Festival Baltimore, which runs through June 23 in UMBC's architecturally and acoustically inviting Linehan Concert Hall. The lineup consists of concerts devoted to complete works in select genres by a vibrant assortment of composers.

"There are distinctive lessons you can learn from listening to a composer's complete pieces for an instrument or ensemble, works written in different years, under different circumstances," Korepanova says.

Friday night, audiences can devour all 24 piano etudes by Liszt played by Korepanova, who has long been drawn to symphonic properties in these technically demanding pieces.

All five of Beethoven's eloquent cello sonatas will be the focus when Korepanova accompanies cellist Gita Ladd on June 23.

Another grouping of five — the rarely encountered piano sonatas by nonagenarian, Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer George Walker — will be performed by Redi Llupa on June 21.


"Redi went crazy when he discovered these sonatas and he wrote his dissertation last year [at the University of Miami] on them," Korepanova says.

The festival will give a nod to another distinguished American composer, Paul Creston, who left four substantial works for saxophone before his death in 1985. They'll be played by saxophonist Matthew Evan Taylor, with Korepanova at the keyboard, on Saturday.

"In Creston's earliest saxophone work, you hear a wild cocktail of influences in the music, but a few opus numbers later, he's a completely different person," Korepanova says.

Shostakovich's profound final composition, the Viola Sonata, his only sonata for that instrument, will share a program on Sundaywith the two autumnal viola sonatas by Brahms. Violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt will team with Korepanova for this event.

Speaking of Brahms, his three radiant violin sonatas, featuring violinist Netanel Draiblate and pianist Lura Johnson, will be the focus June 22.

More Brahms is in store when students participating in the festival's educational activities deliver free noontime concerts — the composer's cello sonatas June 22, his piano quartets June 23.


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Korepanova, who has been based in Miami for several years (she will move to Boston this summer), discovered UMBC's concert hall last year. Cellist Gita Ladd, a teacher at the school, invited Korepanova to collaborate on a weekend of performing Russian music.

"I fell in love with how transparent the sound is in the hall," Korepanova says. "I told Gita, 'Oh my God, this place is a treasure. You must have people fighting to use it.' She said, 'Not really.' So I asked the music department about doing a festival. UMBC has been insanely gracious and insanely supportive."

Korepanova has done some fundraising for the project, but the financing "mainly is from my own savings. I am hoping for ticket sales," she said, adding with a laugh: "And I hope somehow I will be able not to get bankrupt."

If you go

Festival Baltimore runs Friday through June 23 at Linehan Concert Hall, Performing Arts and Humanities Building, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle. Ticketed concerts are $30 (free to those 18 and under). Other concerts are free.