Summer Listening: Tchaikovsky Continued

Here is the entire Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture featured on this morning’s Summer Listening. Enjoy!

Prokofiev Shines in Louisville orchestra broadcast

robert thies

Jorge Mester conducts and Robert Thies is the pianist in our next broadcast of the Louisville Orchestra on Classical 90.5, Thursday at 8 pm. Thies, who will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, is the first American pianist to win a Russian piano competition since Van Cliburn’s famed triumph in Moscow in 1958. Jorge Mester hails Robert “a genius.”

Peter Illych Tchaikovsky’s emotional Symphony No. 6 is also on the program. Mester conducts the work on the heels of his last appearance which included Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6. The maestro says the latter work was influenced by Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Hector Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture begins the broadcast. Read Daniel Gilliam’s review of this Louisville Orchestra performance here.

Review: Louisville Orchestra Highlights Russian Masterworks

robert thies

Review: Louisville Orchestra Highlights Russian Masterworks

Thursday morning, on the eve of his 80th birthday, Jorge Mester conducted his penultimate concert of the 2014-2015 Louisville Orchestra season with two major Russian works.

To open the concert, the orchestra played Berlioz’s Roman Carnival with vigor and excitement, with some beautiful moments from the violas, and a tender English horn solo from Trevor Johnson. Ultimately, against the Prokofiev concerto and the Tchaikovsky symphony, the overture felt more like a necessary formality in the orchestra-concert formula than a genuine statement.

The third piano concerto of Sergei Prokofiev balances witty humor and profound rhetoric, and Prokofiev establishes this M.O. in the initial five minutes of the concerto. Pianist Robert Thies and the orchestra play equal roles, moving gracefully through sometimes quirky, sometimes elegant tunes. There is always something interesting to hear because Prokofiev is always saying something interesting. Even in the transitions — when the music is leading us to an important moment — we find curiosities and gems.

Thies brought an unassuming stage presence to Whitney Hall; lacking all the glitz, body and facial contortions common in soloists. Instead, he allowed Prokofiev’s music to exude personality and affectation. His enthusiasm for this third concerto was belied only by the tiniest grin during his first bow.

Soloist and orchestra were effortless and fluid, with a sparkling urgency throughout. But it was the middle movement, a set of theme and variations, that felt surreal. Here is a composer who is improvising, inviting the orchestra to interject and punctuate, and Thies’ ability to be unobtrusive allowed Prokofiev to be present, as though he had opened a portal to the moment of creation.

Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s final Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” premiered just nine days before his death, is the masterpiece we hope to hear again and again. Mester and orchestra, returning to a work they’ve performed many times, didn’t let their comfort with the notes impair a clear understanding and delivery of the music. Even at its most brooding, Mester didn’t hesitate to move the music forward. The strings were rich and resonant, and woodwind principals Marilyn Nije and Matthew Karr each gave poetic solos in the first movement.

The second movement, a sort of peg-leg waltz, was charming. Only in the final minutes did the waltz unhinge slightly. The stately third movement was peppy and cheerful, slightly reminiscent of The Nutcracker (a score the LO becomes intimately familiar with each holiday season). The fatalistic last movement, more tenebrous than the first, points to the inevitable and leaves us with questions without answers. Regardless of the Pathétique’s actual meaning or message, Tchaikovsky’s final symphony continues to speak profoundly and personally, and fresh performances like Thursday morning’s allow for that introspection.

As evidenced in this concert, and recent performances of Brahms and Elgar, this is a romantic orchestra, with a penchant for emotionally robust works. Ideally, an orchestra can play any period (baroque, classical, contemporary, etc) with equal authority, but the true colors of this band are showing.

The Louisville Orchestra presents this concert again on Friday evening at 8pm in Whitney Hall.

Inspiration from Shakespeare

Tchaikovsky_1906_Evans

Tchaikovsky was a Shakespeare fan. If you don’t believe it, just consider the number of his works inspired by the Bard: Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasia, Hamlet Overture-Fantasia, Incidental music to Hamlet, and The TempestFantasia.

Shakespeare has always inspired composers, including Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Britten and Thomas Adès.

Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest was suggested by Vladimir Stassov. He gave Tchaikovsky an outline of the play, that served as the musical narrative. Tchaikovsky’s music evokes a stormy sea, the love between Miranda and Ferdinand, and the magic of Ariel.

Watch Gustavo Dudamel talk about his recording project featuring the Shakespearean works of Tchaikovsky, and don’t miss Kentucky Shakespeare’s performances this summer!

Classical Composers Steal the Show at Sochi

Olympic Rings

Every two years the international community is treated to the extravaganza of national pride that is the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games. The Russian ceremonies last Friday in Sochi especially focused on the history of the host nation, told through the dreams  of a small girl (who was sometimes rather alarmingly suspended from the ceiling by wires). Russian literature and dance played a large part in the story, but it was the music that truly drove the program forward. With Russia’s rich musical traditions, there was no shortage of material to pull from, and the selection process must have been overwhelmingly difficult.

Music which did make the cut includes such quintessentially Russian pieces as the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s Prince Igor and Stravinsky’s ballets The Firebird and Rite of Spring. This year, the traditional Olympic symbol of doves was portrayed by bizarrely but beautifully lit dancers twirling to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

Difficult as the musical selection for the artistic portion of the evening must have been, the choice of singers must have been a piece of cake. Soprano Anna Netrebko, perhaps the most internationally recognizable Russian singer, performed the Olympic Hymn to round out the musical evening.

The renowned conductor Valery Gergiev also made an appearance at the opening ceremonies as one of several prominent Russian citizens bearing the Olympic flag.

 

In the spirit of the season, here are two other great pieces by Russian composers that didn’t quite make the cut for the opening ceremonies.

Here’s part of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition led by Valery Gergiev:

 

And something from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade: