Polina Bespalko, artistic director of Xavier University’s Piano and Jazz Series, has a fascinating lineup of artists coming to Gallagher Center Theater at XU this year. The season opens this Friday Sept. 21, with a free concert by a piano virtuoso who won the silver in the Liszt International Competition.
“This roster this year is top-notch,” Bespalko said. “And in jazz, they are all connected in some way.”
Xavier Jazz Series opens with bassist Christian McBride on Oct. 27. McBride has worked with everyone on this list, as well as legends from Herbie Hancock to Sting and even opera soprano Kathleen Battle.
On Nov. 16, drummer Mark Guiliana unveils his latest group, Mark Guiliana Space Heroes, featuring saxophonists Jason Rigby and Mike Lewis, and bassist Chris Morrissey. Guiliana was chosen as Best Jazz Drummer in the Modern Drummer Readers Poll 2017.
Coming from Russia, Igor Butman brings his Moscow Jazz Orchestra for a tribute to Benny Goodman on Jan. 11. Butman, says Bespalko, is using jazz to unite people during difficult political times. A jazz superstar who was born in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1961, Butman immigrated to America in 1987 and studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Also on the jazz roster are Avishai Cohen, an Israeli trumpet virtuoso from a musical family, and Brad Mehldau, a jazz pianist with an extensive discography. In 2010, he was the first jazz musician to be named Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall—the first jazz artist to hold this position since it was established in 1995.
This year, there is also a special jazz event with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, which is celebrating 50 years, 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9 in Gallagher Theater. Bespalko saw the company dance to a program of jazz last year.
“The dance and the moves and choreography and expression combined with the jazz was so organic, I thought it would be a good multimedia program,” Bespalko said.
The Xavier Piano Series opens Friday Sept. 21 with pianist Minsoo Hong. His concert is part of the Career Development Program of the Liszt International Competition as a result of his winning the Second Prize at the 11th Liszt Competition in Utrecht. His program includes Liszt’s Année de Pèlerinage and Liszt transcriptions. Admission is free.
On Oct. 7, Oleg Akkuratov’s program, “From Beethoven to Monk,” promises to be one of the events of the fall season. Blind from birth, the concert pianist is an internationally acclaimed virtuoso of both classical and jazz. He studied at the Music Institute at the Moscow Culture and Arts University. In 2014, Akkuratov participated in the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games Sochi. Admission is free.
Akkuratov’s appearance is in partnership with the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Admission is free, but donations are accepted to benefit the association’s new music therapy wing.
In November, longtime Piano Series favorite Kemal Gekic returns for an encore. Pianist Brendan Kinsella, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, performs J.S. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier in January.
And in April, Frederic Chiu returns to the Queen City with one of his specialties, an all-Prokofiev recital.
The pianist that Belspalko is most excited to present is a transgender artist, Sara Davis Buechner. Her latest project is Mozart sonatas, which she will perform at Xavier in March.
Artists at a glance:
Xavier Jazz Series
Oct. 27: Christian McBride New Jawn, 8 p.m., Gallagher Theater
Nov. 16: Mark Guiliana Space Heroes, 8 p.m., Music Resource Center
Fri., Jan. 11: Butman plays Goodman. Igor Butman and the Moscow Jazz Orchestra, 8 p.m., Gallagher Theater
March 22: Trumpeter Avishai Cohen, 8 p.m., Gallagher Theater
April 16: Pianist Brad Mehldau, 8 p.m., Gallagher Theater
Nov. 9: Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, which is celebrating 50 years, 7 p.m. Gallagher Theater.
Xavier Piano Series
Sept. 21: Minsoo Hong
In collaboration with International Franz Liszt Piano Competition, 8 p.m. Gallagher Theater
Oct., 7: Oleg Akkuratov, “From Beethoven to Monk,” 2:30 p.m., Gallagher Theater
Nov. 18: Kemal Gekic, 8 p.m., Gallagher Theater
Jan. 20, 2019: Brendan Kinsella performs J.S. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier
For information and tickets, visit Xavier.edu/musicseries or call 513-745-3162; 513-745-3939 (box office)