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Jorja Fleezanis

Jorja Fleezanis

It takes a big name to make a season finale special, and the String Orchestra of the Rockies has found one.

Violinist Jorja Fleezanis is the SOR’s guest artist for its final concert on April 28, and she’s one of the rare few who is simultaneously being tasked with leading the orchestra through their repertoire.

“Jorja is an amazing violinist and also a groundbreaking, powerful woman in the musical world,” said artistic director Maria Larionoff. “Because of her background … we had to have her sit and be concertmaster.”

Fleezanis, a first-generation Greek immigrant, was just the second woman to be named concertmaster of a major orchestra in the United States when she was promoted to lead the Minnesota Orchestra in 1989. She led the orchestra for two decades, before moving to teach at Indiana University, where she heads orchestra studies and violins.

“She’s a role model for so many up-and-coming violinists,” Larionoff said, showing women there is a path in what used to be a male-dominated field.

Larinoff said she usually has a program in mind before inviting guest artists to sit in. But she called Fleezanis (also a mentor of her own) with no pieces in mind, hoping the violinist had some ideas.

Fleezanis suggested a piece by Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz, a violinist Fleezanis admires.

“She led the way for women composers in Poland,” Larionoff said of Bacewicz. “Kind of in the same way that Jorja was, she became the leading female voice for Polish composers.”

Bacewicz’s “Concerto for Strings” was written in 1948 and premiered in the U.S. in 1950. Rather than be intimidated by an under-the-radar modern work, Larionoff expects the audience to find the concerto very accessible.

The piece is based on a Baroque composition style, she said, and is energetic, fluent and clear, with funky cross-rhythms and “shimmering” moments of beauty.

The program opens with Bela Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances,” which will come across as suitably “gypsy-esque,” Larionoff predicted.

Johannes Brahms’ “String Quintent No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111” closes the program. Instead of playing with just five instruments, Larionoff said the whole orchestra will play.

“Brahms works really well when you translate it from a quintent to a whole orchestra, because it’s so symphonic,” she said. “It’s powerful.”

The Brahms quintet, by the way, was arranged by Larionoff’s husband, Barry Lieberman.

Fleezanis will also lead a violin master class on April 26 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the School of Music Recital Hall, which is free and open to the public.

“She’s really a take-charge person,” Larionoff said. “I’m expecting her to just lead us … she has a vision, a musical idea.”

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.