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Why Is Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto So Irresistible?

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky—who wrote such lush, sweeping melodies for strings—composed one violin concerto. But in it, he put a world of emotions. WRTI's Susan Lewis has more.

As a young violinist growing up in Russia, Lisa Batiashvilli resisted playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major. Why? 

What I hear in his music is that the person behind it is quite vulnerable...

"I tried to avoid the piece that everybody wanted to play and just actually learn other concertos first and then come to it almost like to a nice dessert," she says, laughing.

Tchaikovsky wrote the work in 1878 at age 38, after fleeing a short-lived, ill-fated marriage. His personality was complex, says Batiashvilli, who doesn't see the concerto as a flashy showpiece.  "It's really almost the opposite," she says. "Of course it has the virtuoso part and the last movent is almost like full caloric Russian music, which includes all of the typical things about Russian culture, like the feasts and the dances."

But much of the piece, she says, reveals a different side of Tchaikovsky.

"What I hear in his music is that the person behind it is quite vulnerable, and still at the same time trying to bring to his music the beauty of the life. Because that's what we're all looking for at the end to whatever happens in life, to still seek for the beauty."

Lisa Batiashvilli now plays the Tchaikovsky a lot, each time looking for new insights into a piece she finds very rich.  "Even today, when I go back to this concerto, I restart from scratch. ... I feel that the whole symphony is inside my part." 

Listen to the Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI to hear Lisa as soloist in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto Thursday, May 28th at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2, and Friday, May 29th at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1.

Listen to Jascha Heifetz play the first movement of the beloved concerto:

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.