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The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI: Hilary Hahn in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, alongside Debussy's 'La Mer'

Hilary Hahn
Dana van Leeuwen
/
Courtesy of the artist

Join us on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you a program of Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and Coleridge-Tayler Perkinson from the 2022/2023 season.

Guest conductor William Eddins makes his subscription debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra, and Philadelphia favorite Hilary Hahn returns to delight the audience with her interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s famous and beloved Violin Concerto in D major. The program includes Claude Debussy’s evocative La Mer and a fascinating rarity by 20th-century African American composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, the Sinfonietta No. 1.

Perkinson’s music ranges widely in style and scope. He composed in the classical, jazz, soul and pop idioms, and wrote for television, films and ballet. His concert works are only now starting to receive the attention they deserve, nearly two decades after his death. This program marks The Philadelphia Orchestra’s first performance of Perkinson’s Sinfonietta No. 1, composed in 1955. Cast in three movements, this Sinfonietta could be called neoclassical in style, evoking Baroque and classical models in its outer movements, with a poignant central movement called “Song Form.”

In his spirited interview with producer Susan Lewis, Eddins describes the Sinfonietta as “a wonderfully evocative and very easy piece for people to relate to.”

Conductor William Eddins speaks with Susan Lewis about composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.

Bill Eddins
Nate Ryan
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Bill Eddins, who conducts The Philadelphia Orchestra in a concert of Debussy’s 'La Mer,' Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson's Sinfonietta No. 1 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

Claude Debussy wrote La Mer over a period of 18 months between 1903 and 1905. During that time, he barely glimpsed the actual sea. But he drew inspiration from his memories of seaside holidays, from painted seascapes, and from seafaring literature. Once the work was finished, he did go on a seaside holiday to England, where he corrected the proofs of the score. Though he had a sustained opportunity to observe the actual ocean at that point, there’s no record of any substantive revisions as he finalized La Mer. His memories, paintings, and literary models had already served him well. “In each of these three episodes,” noted the critic Louis Laloy, “Debussy has been able to create enduringly all the glimmerings and shifting shadows, caresses and murmurs, gentle sweetness and fiery anger, seductive charm and sudden gravity contained in the waves.”

There may be no violin concerto more universally loved than Tchaikovsky’s. But it can sometimes take a while for the world to warm to a new work. Though Tchaikovsky deliberately set out to write a truly beautiful work that would be attractive to listeners and performers, no one seemed pleased at first. The violinist he hoped would premiere the work, Josif Kotek, didn’t like the slow movement, so Tchaikovsky wrote a new one. Then his generous patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, criticized the first movement. This time the composer held firm, telling her he hoped with time she would come to like it. Then came the premiere, scheduled in 1879 with a different violinist, the celebrated Leopold Auer — who declared the concerto unplayable. That performance was scuttled.

The following year a performance finally took place with yet another violinist, Adolf Brodsky. That under-rehearsed airing prompted a scathing review that circulated widely. And yet, rather quickly, more performances followed that met a kinder reception from musicians and audiences. Josif Kotek, for whom Tchaikovsky originally wrote the concerto, finally performed it in 1885. Leopold Auer, who couldn’t play the piece only a few years earlier, soon became its most fervent champion. Auer was an important teacher of the next generation of violin virtuosi. At his urging, his students Jascha Heifetz, Efrem Zimbalist, and Nathan Milstein among them, picked up Tchaikovsky’s concerto and performed it worldwide.

It took a little time, but today there is no doubt it’s a favorite, especially in the hands of a searching artist like Hahn — who, in her conversation with producer Susan Lewis, attests that "You can sink into it, you can dive into it. It's got space; you can take all the space that you want, and you can lean into it."

Violinist Hilary Hahn checks in with Susan Lewis about Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto

PROGRAM:

Perkinson: Sinfonietta No. 1

Debussy: La Mer

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major

The Philadelphia Orchestra

William Eddins, conductor

Hilary Hahn, violin

Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts every Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, streaming here at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast on WRTI Replay.

Melinda has worked in radio for decades, hosting and producing classical music and arts news. An award-winning broadcaster, she has created and hosted classical music programs and reported for NPR, WQXR—New York, WHYY–Philadelphia, and American Public Media. WRTI listeners may remember her years hosting classical music for WFLN and WHYY.
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.