Tchaikovsky lovers, this is for you! Join us on Sunday, March 3 at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, and Monday, March 4 at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2 for this Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcast with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Gregg Whiteside is host.
Three of his most beloved works, Capriccio Italien, the Rococo Variations for Cello and Orchestra, and the Symphony No.1 (“Winter Daydreams”) are led by the Orchestra’s Assistant Conductor, Kensho Watanabe. The soloist in the Rococo Variations is the young French cellist Edgar Moreau, the winner of first prize in the 2014 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, making his Philadelphia Orchestra debut with this performance.
This enjoyable program begins in Italy, a country Tchaikovsky loved, travels back in time to the so-called Rococo era in the mid-18th century, and ends with the symphony Tchaikovsky himself nicknamed “Winter Daydreams,” the first of the great Russian composer’s six.
Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien is a fantasy for orchestra that soaks up the sounds of Rome and turns them into an infectious invitation to dance. It’s a richly descriptive portrait of Italy, written after the composer’s three-month stay in Rome. He even got to see the Carnivale in full swing, and experienced first-hand the Italian folk music and street songs, which he incorporates fully into the piece. Overhearing a bugle call from his hotel window, played by an Italian cavalry regiment, Tchaikovsky even re-creates it at the very beginning of Capriccio Italien.
The theme in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra is not really a typical 18th-century melody, but rather a nostalgic look at the past from a hundred years later – exactly what Tchaikovsky wanted it to be. He composed the work for a colleague at the Moscow Conservatory, the eminent young German cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, who proceeded to make changes to the work, which later made their relationship a bit contentious, not an uncommon thing in these artistic collaborations. It’s another eminent young cellist who collaborates with the Philadelphians in this performance! Edgar Moreau, a rising star, has performed in the great concert halls of the world.
Speaking of young and gifted, Tchaikovsky himself, while still in his twenties, looked past what his elders in the Mighty Five were up to, and attempted to compose a symphony and provide what Russian musical culture most needed in the 1860s. And, given the ambition of what he was attempting, it's no surprise that this first of his symphonies was the single work that gave him more anguish than any other, at least according to his brother Modest; and it proved controversial to both factions of the Russian music scene.
Tchaikovsky's conservative, formalist teachers, including Anton Rubinstein, refused to endorse or perform it, and the progressives weren't well-disposed to it either. Tchaikovsky’s mental and physical health suffered so much during the composition of this symphony that he actually thought he might not survive.
But what a work it turned out to be! It actually predates Brahms’s first symphony, and though it’s structure adheres to the Germanic symphonic tradition, it’s Russian folk-inspired moments are always a reminder that this music looks to the East as well as the West.
During intermission, WRTI’s Susan Lewis speaks backstage at Verizon Hall with Kensho Watanabe and Edgar Moreau.
Anyone who loves the music of Tchaikovsky will soak up these two hours! Be sure to listen Sunday, March 3rd, from 1 to 3 PM on WRTI 90.1, the WRTI mobile app, on the classical web stream at WRTI.org.
Tchaikovsky: Capriccio Italien
Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op 33
Edgar Moreau, cello
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 (“Winter Daydreams”)
Kensho Watanabe, conductor
Gregg Whiteside is producer and host of The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, every Sunday at 1 pm on WRTI 90.1, streaming online at WRTI.org, and on the WRTI mobile app! Listen again on Mondays at 7 pm on WRTI HD-2.