Barskaya Brings Big Musical Talent to Small Stage

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Author: Jessica Gelzer

Last Monday night, faculty pianist Galina Barskaya played a brilliantly chosen program. The quaint space of Bird Studio was filled with about 35 people, mostly Eagle Rock community members, with a handful of students and fellow faculty members thrown into the mix. The performance was a relaxing and inspiring way to start off the week.

Barskaya is both a piano instructor and accompanist here at Occidental College. She taught herself to play piano at the age of four, and received a Master of Music degree with honors from Kiev State Tchaikovsky Conservatory. She now serves as the music director at Canoga Park’s Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church.

“I always knew I was a musician. I knew it was my destiny,” Barskaya said.

Accompanying her was cellist David Mergen, a student of the L.A. Philharmonic’s principal cellist, Ronald Leonard. Mergen has played in numerous ensembles and is currently on a national Broadway tour with The Phantom of the Opera.

“Variations for Cello and Piano in E-flat major” by Ludwig van Beethoven opened the concert. Although Barskaya first played this piece at the age of 17, she said that it never gets old. An adaptation of Mozart’s theme from The Magic Flute, the Beethoven piece has a pleasant tone. Barskaya described it to her audience as a “token of happiness.” The piano often echoed the cello, not only in melody, but in the sweetness of its sound. Barskaya later explained that this piece was about two men longing for the same woman, an image that came to mind naturally while listening.

Next, Barskaya played one of Beethoven’s later works, the “Piano Sonata, op. 110.” Barskaya said that this unconventional composition was intended to be a metaphor for life coming out of tragedy in a natural progression. The piece showcased Barskaya’s ability to play with emotion, making it appear effortless. At one point, the repetition of one note and one chord, escalating in volume, clearly imitated a beating heart.

The grand finale was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano,” one of Barskaya and Mergen’s mutual favorites. The piece showcased the sounds of both instruments nicely. Mergen expressed his gratitude for having found an accompanist for such a demanding piece.

“Rachmaninoff is easily the greatest pianist of our time. Next to Galina of course,” Bergen said.

Their 10 years of collaboration was very apparent; Barskaya was sensitive to Mergen’s every musical move during the piece. The two talented musicians left the audience clapping wholeheartedly.

The concert in its entirety was filled with expressiveness, displaying the performers’ obvious love of the music. Audience member Margaret Leith (junior), a Music major and cellist herself, was emotionally moved by the performance. She decided to attend the performance after overhearing Barskaya and Mergen rehearse one night.

“Galina is amazing and I’ve played with her, but to see her play with a pro is very cool,” Leith said.

This was just one of three in a series of Faculty Artist Recitals taking place throughout the semester. If the rest of the series is anything like Barskaya and Mergen’s performance, students should not miss the opportunity to attend the other two concerts. The series is a great way for students to become inspired and to realize how truly talented their teachers are.

The next Faculty Artist Recital will take place on February 20th in Bird Studio at 7:30 p.m. The performance will feature faculty pianist Junko Ueno Garrett.

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