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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Columbus Symphony Russian Festival January 6 and 7 2017

The Columbus Symphony performs a suite from Prokofiev's Romero and Juliet, the 1947 edition of Stravinsky's Petrushka, and Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D on Friday and Saturday January 6 and 7 in the Ohio Theater at 8 Pm.

Rossen Milanov conducts, with Elena Urioste, violin.





Pre concert talks one hour before each performance.

Most people enjoy their honeymoon. Tchaikovsky fled his. The composer married Antonia Miliukova on July 18, 1877. He described her as "a woman with whom I am not the least in love." Clearly, Tchaikovsky's was succumbing pressure to marry, and considered Miliukova little better than a stalker. Reminds me of my cousin Kathleen, who married her boyfriend of 20 years just to get rid of him. But that's another story.

Tchaikovsky fled Russia within weeks of this marriage. He never lived with his wife and seldom saw Kotek. The two enjoyed making music, and the latest hit from Paris, Lalo's Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra as a great favorite as the two passed the time playing music with Tchaikovsky working to recover his spirits.

her again. He went to Switzerland, where he was soon joined by his pupil, the young violinist Josef Kotek.

Dabbling with the Lalo work made Tchaikovsky admire his French colleague all the more, and led to a revealing comment: "It has a lot of freshness, lightness of piquant rhythms, of beautifully harmonized melodies. He, in the same way as as Leo Delibes and Bizet, does not strive after profundity, but he carefully avoids routine, seeks out many new forms, and thinks more about musical beauty than about observing established tradition as do the Germans.

(That was me adding the bold type.)

This may be another way of saying that Schumann, Brahms and certainly Wagner were always in their music striving for more. Listeners were meant to be moved, charged and overwhelmed, to take the listening experience with them. There were expectations of the audience.  Tchaikovsky, like Verdi and Bizet was writing to music to uplift, yes, but also to entertain. They wanted to tell stories.

Josef Kotek (l) with Tchaikovsky
Sight reading Lalo;'s music with Kotek led to some discussion and finally a planned concerto for violin and orchestra, Tchaikovsky's first (and last). There was a first draft that became his popular Souvenir d'un lieu cher the title perhaps a reference to the comfort having young Kotek nearby.

The Violin Concerto in D was completed in 1880 and dedicated not to Kotek but to Leopold Auer. It was not a successful dedication. "I don't know whether Auer was flattered by my dedication, or that despite his sincere friendship for me, he never wanted to master the difficulties of this concerto, deemed it too difficult to play..."

(A dedication to the young Kotek, gifted he may have been , would not have guaranteed performances)


Auer thought the piece was poorly written. He disliked what he considered the slashing and banging required of the solo instrument against a rumbling and fiery orchestra. The premiere went to Adolf Brodsky, in 1881 in Vienna. The audience cheered and the critics raged. Eduard Hanslick,  then the most influential music journalist since Berlioz, nailed the coffin shut: " The violin was not played but beaten black and blue."

This concerto to me is a celebration, a joyous one, between the violin and orchestra. I hear little of matching tones, of playing musical catch. I do hear drama, and virtuosity and pure entertainment. This concerto dazzles and rages along, with a second movement that sings, leading straight into the finale.



The two ballet scores on this program, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and Stravinsky's Petrushka give us music not to be heard but to be watched.

Romeo got Prokofiev into hot water with the soviet authorities and the literary world in general. He insisted the story should have a happy ending. Juliet would revive before Romeo takes poison, and rather than die graciously in each other's arms, they would dance off into the night. The composer was convinced that a tragic ending "could not be danced." " Live people can dance, but the dying can hardly be expected to dance in bed. " (Somewhere there is an opera where that happens, trust me)
The composer lost, at least with the ending. The young couple dies, graciously, but there;'s plenty of dancing throughout the two act spectacle.

As with Tchaikovsky's violin concerto being deem unplayable, so Prokofiev's music was decreed bloody well undanceable. The ballet's premiere was not in the Soviet Union, but in Czechoslovakia. Prokofiev had already fashioned three orchestral suites from the complete, two hour score. Still, it didn't do much for the Sophie author ties to have such a high profile premiere given outside of the Soviet Union. Romeo and Juliet  was introduced to Prokofiev's homeland at the Kirov Theater on January 10, 1940. The leads were f danced by Konstantin Sergeyev and Galina Ulanova



Petrushka brings us into Diaghilev territory. Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) was the consummate showman, impresario, spendthrift, charlatan and genius. He knew what the public wanted and he gave it to them. Sometimes he gave the public performances and music they didn't know they wanted, but by and large the public was convinced. His choreographers were Nijinsky, Fokine, and Massine. His designers were Picasso, Benois and Bakst. His composers were Satie, Myaskovksy, Prokofiev, Ravel and Stravinsky. He was either rich or flat broke and never let a creditor get in his way. Diaghilev's Ballet Russes owned the world until his death, just after the market crash in 1929 (just in time?)


Petrushka is a Punch and Judy show complete with puppets, put on at a Shrovetide Fair. The puppets are the ballerina, the Moor and Petrushka himself. Petrushka loves the ballerina who loves the Moor, who opens a coconut and, convinced this is a God begins to worship...the coconut.

This doesn't keep the Moor from flirting with the ballerina.


Petrushka was first danced in the Theatre Chatelet in Paris on June 13, 1911. Diaghilev produced the premiere with the Ballet Russes, Nijinsky danced Petrushka, Michel Fokine was the choreographer and Alexandre Benois did the designs. Nijinsky was the star. Stravinsky, with his humorous blend of rhythm and color-he gives the ballerina a cornet!-made the first real sensation of what became a long career, and an influence in music and art equal to Mozart and Wagner.

By the way, the film Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky is on youtube, and is well worth a look, especially as it recreates the scandalous opening of The Rite of Spring




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