Summering with Tchaikovsky

By on July 12, 2012

What is there about Tchaikovsky and summer concerts? I’m sure if we could talk to him now, he would not be happy to be king of the summer music fests. And yet he is. Last night at Avery Fisher Hall we witnessed the latest in a long line of People’s Exhibits proving  the natural mating of this composer and this season.

Bramwell Tovey led the New York Philharmonic in yet another Big Apple all-Tchaikovsky spectacular which had the summer audience on a sultry night out of their seats and applauding by 9:30. The program for this event was the Festival Coronation March which Tchaikovsky wrote for the coronation of Czar Alexander III. (Tchaikovsky himself  conducted the American premiere at the opening of Carnegie Hall in 1891.) Then came Simon Trpceski the dynamic Macedonian pianist playing the Siloti version of Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto. After intermission, Act IV of Swan Lake with its cataclysmic ear-popping ending and finally the ubiquitous 1812 Overture complete with electronic cannon shots delivered by harpist Nancy Allen. Tovey tipped his hat to her.

Tovey formerly with the Royal Opera Ballet really made Swan Lake agogic. As is his habit, he introduced the numbers with witty observations and sly innuendo, even greeting late-comers with withering salutations. I doubt that heretofore Siegfried in Swan Lake had been linked to an amber alert but he was on a stage at Lincoln Center Tuesday night.

Trpceski, one of the most impressive pianists before the public today, was all piston-like fingers and accuracy in the bravura second piano concerto, surely the center piece of the night. He tossed off the formidable challenges of this flashy and splashy solo part with just the right blend of showmanship and romantic ardor. The highlight of the piece is the chamber-like second movement with solo violinist and cello accompanying the piano soloist which Siloti shortened, no doubt to the relief of many piano virtuosos otherwise fond of the music. I have heard the original version  the composer wrote performed in concert by Steven Hough and, yes, in the middle movement, the soloist sits there like part of the audience admiring the lyric beauty of the solo string playing before entering the fray.

The hero of the evening though was Tovey, the one time Salvation Army kid and now music director in Vancouver, who held the audience in the palm of his hand as he delivered a lively program with hilarious commentary. This summer at the Hollywood Bowl, and elsewhere, there will be other traditional all-Tchaikovsky nights with the 1812 Overture as centerpiece, (Tchaikovsky grew to hate it), with fireworks and if you are lucky witty commentary.  (You know you are a success when the orchestra is also laughing.)

People get Tchaikovsky right away. (They may struggle for years with Stockhausen and Boulez.) The Russian composer  knew how to speak directly to his listeners in a way that few composers before and after have achieved. Is this so bad? Music was made for listeners, not critics and academics. If Tchaikovsky knew this secret instinctively, then he deserves the gold star he gets every summer when the audiences turn out in droves at summer symphonic concerts with his music on the program .

Curtis Rittenhouse

About Tom Godfrey

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