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Tchaikovsky Spectacular Program Notes

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This is our final concert at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. Carl St.Clair will take us on a trip down memory lane, reminiscing on nearly three decades of concerts “in the meadows.” The program feature Tchaikovsky's hit parade with excerpts from the perennially popular ballets “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker,” and two beloved concertos. The curtain will fall on this chapter of Pacific Symphony history to the traditional sounds of the electrifying “1812 Overture”!
This NoteStream includes the complete Program Notes for the concert, and an introduction to tonight's Guest Artists.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.





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Tchaikovsky Spectacular Program Notes

Tonight's Program

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Selections from Swan Lake, Op. 20

Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 35, TH 59

Allegro moderato Canzonetta: Andante Finale: Allegro vivacissimo

Paul Huang

I N T E R M I S S I O N

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Selections from The Nutcracker, Op. 71

Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 23, TH 55

Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso Andantino semplice

Allegro con fuoco

Natasha Paremski

1812 Overture, Op. 49, TH 49

Huntington Beach Concert Band

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

1874, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (file no. LC-USZ62-128254)

The Ballets: Background on Selections from Swan Lake and The Nutcracker

On the strength of his three great ballet scores—Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker—Tchaikovsky takes his place at the forefront of major composers who wrote great original compositions for the ballet.

Today, choreographers are just as likely to mine existing repertory for their dance music as to collaborate with composers on new ones. But it was Tchaikovsky, with his seemingly inexhaustible gifts for melodic and narrative invention, who proved the potential of the original ballet score.

In receiving the commission for Swan Lake in 1875, Tchaikovsky was hemmed in by commercial demands and creative constraints. His rhythms and tempos had to conform to the demands of choreographic convention, and his seemingly inexhaustible gift for melodic invention was tailored to fit dance steps.

But in listening to selections from Swan Lake, we are not aware of these constraints; it is all pure music and pure Tchaikovsky, endlessly tuneful and thrillingly danceable. It took him about a year and a half to complete the score, and dance rehearsals—which began before he was finished—took 11 months.

Like many 19th-century story ballets, Swan Lake takes place in a world of enchanted forests and palaces; it is populated by nobly born humans, half-human spirits and villains with magical powers, all caught between two worlds that are far removed from everyday reality.

For Tchaikovsky, the challenge was to create music that combines with decor and stage action to transform this realm of airy fantasy into a theatrical experience of authentic human emotion and conflict.

Most of all, he had to frame dancers' movements with music that would be dramatically compelling yet worthy of performance on its own. His ballet scores met this challenge as none had before them, redefining the possibilities of dance as theater.

Swan Lake

The national ballet of China perform on stage at Jincheng theater, in Chengdu, China. Image by Jack.Q/Shutterstock

Swan Lake

In the concert hall, the Suite from Swan Lake suggests not just dance movements, but a deeply atmospheric musical narrative of magic, menace, sacrifice and transfiguration.

The Nutcracker, by contrast, transports us to a world that is far more familiar, but no less magical: the child's imagination during an enchanted Christmas.

Though all three of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores are familiar to us in suite form, The Nutcracker suite is the only one that Tchaikovsky himself arranged. We can easily hear one reason he did so: the sparkling, otherworldly texture of the celesta, which was new to Russia when the music was premiered in 1892.

Tchaikovsky had heard the celesta in Paris the previous year.

Developed by the father-and-son team Victor and Auguste Mustel, the celesta, named for its heavenly sound, intrigued Tchaikovsky, who first tried it in the score of a tone poem, then realized it was the answer to “the absolute impossibility of depicting the Sugarplum Fairy in music.”

More so than the symphonies, concertos or tone poems, the ballets are a spectacular showcase for Tchaikovsky the melodist. In them we hear a succession of contrasting melodies, each one a self- contained solo dance, or “variation”—in this case, a reference to the showy choreography rather than the music.

The Nutcracker

Anna Dorosh and Maxim Chepik at Nutcracker ballet in Dnepropetrovsk Opera and Ballet Theatre, Ukraine. Image by Igor Bulgarin/Shutterstock

The Nutcracker

In love stories such as The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, most variations are performed by suitors; in The Nutcracker, they are performed by a succession of fabulous, imported toys brought to enchanted life by Clara’s mysterious uncle Drosselmeyer.

The Concertos: Background on the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, and the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23

Concertos existed for centuries before Tchaikovsky, but he was born into the great age of the virtuosic concerto composition: the Romantic era in classical music.

It was Beethoven, born in 1770, who had raised the stakes; by 1875, when Tchaikovsky was 35, he was composing his Piano Concerto No. 1. The Romantic juxtaposition of the solo player pitted against the arrayed forces of the orchestra suited Tchaikovsky, as did the grandeur of virtuosic display.

Like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky was an excellent pianist who fully expected to play his own piano compositions.

He was inexperienced in violin composition and sought technical help with it; but then again, Beethoven—himself no violinist—had famously boasted that he expected his own violin concerto to be remembered and played 50 years after its premiere.

Yet despite Tchaikovsky's pains, both these concertos were initially condemned as “unplayable.” He had begun the violin concerto in the glow of inspiration after hearing a number of continental examples, especially Edouard Lalo's five-movement Symphonie Espagnol.

In an enthusiastic letter to his patron, Madame von Meck, he effusively praised Lalo's "lightness, freshness and piquant rhythms" and expressed rare optimism about his own composition.

But his manuscript was rejected by violinist Josif Kotek, a friend and composition student of Tchaikovsky's, after the composer chose the great Leopold Auer as dedicatee and to play its premiere.

Auer had misgivings about the work and was widely quoted as calling it "unplayable," forcing the concerto's first public performance to be postponed until still another violinist, Adolph Brodsky, could be found.

Brodsky introduced the concerto in Vienna on December 4, 1881. More than three decades later, Auer recounted his early involvement with the concerto to a New York publication, the Musical Courier, in what amounted to a bit of self-justifying revisionist history.

Typical! The concerto literature is rife with works that are now popular, their greatness undisputed, that were condemned by critics and soloists back in the day.

Most often, they were described as having been written “against the instrument” or as technically unplayable. Were soloists hedging their bets?

It’s hard to know; playing the unplayable was right on their calling card. Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and the Violin Concerto in D both outlasted this characterization, and are now among the most beloved concertos in the standard repertory.

Grandeur

Grandeur

We might have expected a different history for the great Piano Concerto No. 1. Though Tchaikovsky lacked the encyclopedic technique of Russia’s foremost soloists, he could be confident of his knowledge of the instrument and how to write for it, and the concerto displays towering grandeur and poetic utterance that are abundant and unmistakable—earmarks of a hit concerto.

The melodies are gorgeously lyrical and take advantage of the instrument’s expressive capabilities.

So why did Tchaikovsky’s friend and intended dedicatee for the score, the great pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, dis it as artistically crude and, yes, unplayable? Musicologists are still speculating about the reasons.

Ah, well—when it comes to malicious fun, it's hard to beat celebrating the stupidity of critics. The world of classical music is filled with poorly judged writing about masterpieces that have earned a cherished place in our hearts and in the standard repertory, but were viciously panned by critics when they were introduced.

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1

---Martha Argerich, piano - Charles Dutoit, conductor

The initial assessments of these concertos followed a well-worn pattern that has afflicted many others before and since: first, a key instrumentalist declares the work poorly written for the instrument, perhaps even unplayable; next an early critic derides it as crude or tasteless; then the clamorous public embraces it, demanding more performances; and finally, early detractors reconsider or forget their reservations.

Video

Background on the 1812 Overture, Op. 49

No, not the War of 1812. The subject of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture is not American, but Russian: Napoleon'a catastrophic march toward Moscow and Russia’s successful defense at the Battle of Borodino.

As Napoleon marched to consolidate his power in Europe during the opening years of the 19th century, his campaign called all the fundamentals of European politics and Enlightenment ideas into question.

Half a century later, when Tchaikovsky wrote music to celebrate the preservation of Russian autonomy in the face of Napoleon's army, this history was still burning in the Russian soul.

Napoleon: Retreat From Moscow

Painting by Viktor Mazurovsky (1859–1923)

Napoleon: Retreat From Moscow

What makes it sound so American? Its textures are distinctly brassy and martial, with narrative tension that builds to a thrillingly victorious climax. Aural spectacle gets no more spectacular than this; it is surely the most popular piece of music ever scored for full orchestra with optional tubular bells, pipe organ and cannon.

As the overture opens, a plaintive choir of cellos and violas represents the people of Russia in their homes and churches as the invasion and their suffering escalate.

One critical element is the brass-borne strains of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” which has the characteristic sound of the cavalry riding to the rescue. As musical storytelling, the 1812 Overture is so vivid that we can smell the gunpowder as it limns the progress of contending forces.

The dynamics are full of exciting contrasts, building tension with long crescendos. Melodic themes entwine and shift balance as if battling for control. New elements introduce themselves softly as if they were distant, then grow louder as if drawing near.

As the overture opens, a plaintive choir of cellos and violas represents the people of Russia in their homes and churches as the invasion and their suffering escalate.

One critical element is the brass-borne strains of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” which has the characteristic sound of the cavalry riding to the rescue.

But remember, France represents the Napoleonic menace; in other words, they are the bad guys.

Victory comes when they are countered by louder strains of the Russian anthem “God Save the Czar.” And, of course, by the Imperial Army and its cannons—sixteen shots in all.

After the battling and the cannon fire, the initial hymn tune returns to the whole orchestra and triumphant church bells ring out.

They remind us that it is not the army or the czar but the Russian people who are the hero of the 1812 Overture—as they are in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 depicting the siege of Leningrad, and in Mussorgsky’s populist opera of czars and political intrigue, Boris Godunov.

1812 Overture

---"'1812', Op. 49: Overture Solennello" by Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra

This idea—the common people as hero—is a democratic ideal that may be the closest link between America's national culture and the historical origins of our beloved 1812 Overture.

Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor-in- chief for The Santa Fe Opera.

Video

Paul Huang - Violinist

Photo Credit: Marco Borggreve

Paul Huang - Violinist

Recipient of the prestigious 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Taiwanese-American violinist Paul Huang is already recognized for his intensely expressive music making, distinctive sound and effortless virtuosity.

Following his Kennedy Center debut, The Washington Post proclaimed: “Huang is definitely an artist with the goods for a significant career.” In 2013, The New York Times praised his “masterly account of Barber’s Violin Concerto” with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Alice Tully Hall.

Huang's 2015-16 season included subscription debuts with the Louisiana Philharmonic, Brevard Symphony, Seoul Philharmonic, as well as return engagements with the Detroit Symphony, Alabama Symphony, Hilton Head Symphony, Bilbao Symphony, National Symphony of Mexico and National Taiwan Symphony. In addition, Huang appeared in recitals at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, Barre Opera House in Vermont, Symphony Hall in Detroit, the Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach and Caramoor Festival Rising Stars series.

In 2014-15, Huang stepped in for Midori to appear with the Detroit Symphony under the baton of Leonard Slatkin performing the Sibelius concerto to critical acclaim.

He also appeared with the Alabama Symphony on short notice to perform the Walton concerto. Other season highlights included his concerto debut performing the Barber concerto with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Lincoln Center, as well as his sold-out solo recital debut on Lincoln Center's “Great Performers“ Series.

Huang's recent recital appearances include Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, University of Georgia Performing Arts, University of Florida Performing Arts, the Strathmore Center, Buffalo Chamber Music Society, Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Jordan Hall, the Louvre in Paris, Seoul Arts Center and National Concert Hall in Taiwan.

Photo Credit: Marco Borggreve

His first solo CD, Intimate Inspiration, was released on the CHIMEI label. In association with the Camerata Pacifica, he also recorded Four Songs of Solitude for solo violin for their album of John Harbison works. The album was released on Harmonia Mundi in fall 2014.

An acclaimed chamber musician, Huang appears as a member of the prestigious Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two as well as a principal artist for the Camerata Pacifica in Santa Barbara and throughout California.

A frequent guest artist at summer music festivals worldwide, his upcoming appearances include debuts at Music@Menlo, La Jolla, Bad Kissingen, as well as returning to Caramoor, CHANEL, Great Mountains and Moritzburg Festivals.

His collaborators have included Gil Shaham, Pamela Frank, Kim Kashkashian, Nobuko Imai, Maxim Rysanov, Roberto Diaz, David Finckel, Paul Watkins and Frans Helmerson.

Winner of the 2011 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, Huang made critically acclaimed recital debuts in New York at Merkin Concert Hall and in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center.

Other honors include First Prize at the 2009 International Violin Competition Sion-Valais in Switzerland, the 2009 Chi-Mei Cultural Foundation Arts Award for Taiwan’s Most Promising Young Artists, the 2013 Salon de Virtuosi Career Grant, and 2014 Classical Recording Foundation Young Artist Award.

Born in Taiwan, Huang began violin lessons at the age of 7. Since entering the Juilliard Pre- College at 14, he has continued studies at the school with Hyo Kang and I-Hao Lee.

Huang was a recipient of the inaugural Kovner Fellowship at The Juilliard School, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. He plays on the 1742 ex-Wieniawski Guarneri del Gesù on loan through the generous efforts of the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

“Comparisons with Argerich should not be given lightly, but Paremski is so clearly of the same temperament and technique that it is unavoidable here.“ — American Record Guide

Natasha Paremski - Pianist

---Photo credit - Andrea Joynt

Natasha Paremski - Pianist

With her consistently striking and dynamic performances, pianist Natasha Paremski reveals astounding virtuosity and voracious interpretive abilities. She continues to generate excitement from all corners as she wins over audiences with her musical sensibility and flawless technique.

Born in Moscow, Paremski moved to the United States at the age of 8 and became a U.S. citizen shortly thereafter.

She is now based in New York. Paremski was awarded several very prestigious artist prizes at a very young age, including the Gilmore Young Artists prize in 2006 at the age of 18, the Prix Montblanc in 2007 and the Orpheum Stiftung Prize in Switzerland.

In September 2010, she was awarded the Classical Recording Foundation’s Young Artist of the Year. Her first recital album was released in 2011 and it debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard Traditional Classical chart. In 2012 she recorded Tchaikovsky's first concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Fabien Gabel on the orchestra's label distributed by Naxos.

Paremski has performed with major orchestras in North America and she tours extensively in Europe.

She has performed under the direction of conductors including Peter Oundjian, Andres Orozco-Estrada, Jeffrey Kahane, James Gaffigan, Dmitri Yablonski, Tomas Netopil, JoAnn Falletta, Fabien Gabel and Andrew Litton. Paremski has toured with Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica in Latvia, Benelux, the UK and Austria and performed with the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra in Taipei.

With a strong focus on new music, Paremski's growing repertoire reflects an artistic maturity beyond her years.

In the 2010-11 season, she played the world premiere of a sonata written for her by Gabriel Kahane, which was also included in her solo album.

At the suggestion of John Corigliano, Paremski brought her insight and depth to his Piano Concerto with the Colorado Symphony. In recital, she has played several pieces by noted composer and pianist Fred Hersch.

Paremski continues to extend her performance activity and range beyond the traditional concert hall. In December 2008, she was the featured pianist in choreographer Benjamin Millepied's Danse Concertantes at New York's Joyce Theater.

She was featured in a major two-part film for BBC Television on the life and work of Tchaikovsky, shot on location in St. Petersburg, performing excerpts from Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto and other works.

In the winter of 2007, Paremski participated along with Simon Keenlyside and Maxim Vengerov in the filming of Twin Spirits, a project starring Sting and Trudie Styler that explores the music and writing of Robert and Clara Schumann, which was released on DVD.

She has performed in the project live several times with the co-creators in New York and the UK, directed by John Caird, the original director/ adaptor of the musical Les Misérables.

Paremski began her piano studies at the age of 4 with Nina Malikova at Moscow's Andreyev School of Music. She then studied at San Francisco Conservatory of Music before moving to New York to study with Pavlina Dokovska at Mannes College of Music, from which she graduated in 2007.

Paremski made her professional debut at age 9 with the El Camino Youth Symphony in California.

At the age of 15 she debuted with Los Angeles Philharmonic and recorded two discs with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitry Yablonsky, the first featuring Anton Rubinstein's Piano Concerto No. 4 coupled with Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the second featuring all of Chopin’s shorter works for piano and orchestra.

HUNTINGTON BEACH CONCERT BAND

The Huntington Beach Concert Band has been performing for Southern California audiences for 40 years. Founded by John Mason in 1973, this non-profit volunteer community concert band is conducted by Thomas Ridley and provides concerts to the greater Orange County area throughout the year.

The band’s purpose is to provide a creative opportunity for all musicians age 18 or older to share musical talents and bring enjoyment to others through public performance. They are formally organized as a California non-profit corporation.

The band plays 12-15 concerts a year throughout Orange County. This includes two concerts as part of the annual Sunday Summer Concert Series.

The band is proud to have organized and sponsored this series for many years, increasing the number of concerts from a low of four in 2004 to 11 since 2006.

Another highlight is playing a concert on the grass at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and then joining Pacific Symphony on stage for the 1812 Overture.