WILKES-BARRE — Ask virtuoso Yevgeny Kutik if he’s ever done anything like this before — playing his violin during a Shabbat service at a synagogue on a Saturday morning and then performing a concert at a church Saturday evening — and the busy world traveler honestly doesn’t know.
“Probably … I might have,” he said in a telephone interview. “I often play music of Jewish composers in churches and I’ve played a lot of Christian music in synagogues. Music crosses all borders.”
“I’m not sure I’ve done something quite like this,” he concluded. “It should be very interesting.”
This weekend, “something quite like this” is an interfaith effort that will bring Kutik, pianist Spencer Myer, the Wyoming Seminary Madrigal Singers and the Rev. Robert Zanicky, pastor of Wilkes-Barre’s First Presbyterian Church, to the 10 a.m. Shabbat service at Temple Israel on South River Street.
At 8 p.m., a short Havadalah service at First Presbyterian Church on South Franklin Street will mark sundown and the end of the Shabbat, and then Kutik and Myer will begin a concert that includes Mendelssohn’s “Violin Sonata in F Major,” Bloch’s “Baal Shem Suite,” Prokofiev’s “Waltz from Cinderella,” Achron’s “Hebrew Melody” and “Hebrew Lullaby” and Ravel’s “Tzigane.”
Nancy Sanderson, executive director of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, is thrilled for the chance to hear the musicians, whose appearance with Temple Israel’s Artist in Residence Weekend has been underwritten by the Myne & Nat Levy Endowment.
“They’re fabulous musicians, and this is wonderful music,” she said.
Making her even happier is the knowledge that all proceeds of the $36-per-person concert will benefit the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, which has been presenting small chamber events rather than full-orchestra performances this year as it financially rebuilds and hopes to return to a more extensive season in the future.
“This was so incredibly generous,” she said. “The Myne & Nat Levy Endowment Fund has provided everything for these musicians, and the Temple decided to take this one step further, with any ticket revenue donated to the philharmonic. It’s such a tremendous act of generosity and support, and I love that it’s in the downtown. First Presbyterian has done everything they could to make us feel welcome.”
The weekend offers a chance to hear beautiful selections, said Kutik, who has been playing the violin since he was about 5.
That’s how old he was when his family emigrated from Russia to the United States, where they settled in the Berkshires area of Massachusetts, with help from the Jewish Federations of North America. His family brought only two suitcases, and his mother, who was Kutik’s first violin teacher, filled one of them with sheet music.
“She had put together a very large collection,” the musician recalled. “I think the only reason she brought them was because she wasn’t sure she’d be able to find them in the United States. A lot of the works are kind of random, obscure.”
Kutik expects to play at least one piece “from the suitcase” during the residency. He’s also looking forward to the Mendelssohn Violin Sonata, which he described as “a very strong, exciting piece. There’s a certain vitality and genius that comes across.”
Music is meant to be shared, Kutik said, explaining that playing for an audience is “where music starts. In that moment you start something that can never be replicated again. It’s a very communal affair.”
The globe-trotting musician admits he doesn’t stay in one place for long. Recent appearances have taken him to Nantucket, Arizona and Tallahassee and, earlier this month, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, site of the former Nazi-run concentration camp in Poland, where he performed during a Holocaust Remembrance Day attended by 20,000 people.
“I played a combination of some Jewish music, some Yiddish songs and a piece by one composer — his name was Kattenberg — who was killed in the death camps,” Kutik said.
Being at the site where so many people died during World War II was moving, the musician admitted.
“You feel something very special during the sound check, when no one’s there, something special in your body and mind and heart,” Kutik said, explaining he then put all emotions aside to concentrate on his art. “There’s definitely a time to get carried away by emotion, but not while you’re playing he said. “You’re expressing the music and, hopefully, that is enough to speak for itself.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.