Tchaikovsky Spectacular cover

Tchaikovsky Spectacular


End summer with a bang! No SummerFest is complete without Pacific Symphony performing Tchaikovsky’s thrilling “1812” overture, complete with live cannons and brilliant fireworks. You’ll enjoy this famous romantic composer’s greatest hits including his memorable Piano Concerto No. 1 featuring Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Vadym Kholodenko. You won’t want to miss it!
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Pacific Symphony
This concert is generously sponsored by the Stephen G. and Regina Oswald Foundation.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.

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Tchaikovsky Spectacular



Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)

Festive Overture, Op. 96

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23

Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso

Andantino semplice

Allegro con fuoco

Vadym Kholodenko


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908)

“Procession of the Nobles” from Mlada

Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36

Alexander Borodin (1833–1887)

“Polovtsian Dances” from Prince Igor

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

1812 Overture, Op. 49

This concert is generously sponsored by the Stephen G. and Regina Oswald Foundation.

Image by Holger Eklund / Lehtikuva, taken on 9 October 1958

Festive Overture, Op. 96


Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon; 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, percussion; strings Performance time: 7 minutes

Shostakovich’s aptly titled Festive Overture recalls another popular work composed a century earlier: the overture to Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Ludmilla. And that’s hardly surprising:

Shostakovich took inspiration from Glinka’s influential Ruslan overture, though in their opening bars the two overtures sound quite different. Glinka bolts from the starting gate with a fusillade of shots from the timpani and a rollicking string theme that starts fast and gets faster, while Shostakovich greets us with a fanfare of deceptive solemnity voiced by two trumpets. This brassy announcement eventually delineates the overture’s first presto theme. Only when this theme is finally taken up by the winds does the Ruslan-like fun begin: a sense of rushing momentum, with the orchestra’s choirs chasing each other at a breakneck pace.

The overture combines a fun-loving spirit with a formal sense of classical structure. The rollicking presto eventually resolves into a stately theme in the horns and cellos. But behind this courtliness, a driving beat is still at play, and when the two themes are played in counterpoint, boisterous energy wins out: the fanfare theme returns in the brasses, giving rise to an exuberant coda.

Shostakovich’s friend Lev Lebedinsky describes him writing the overture at astonishing speed, laughing and talking as he worked. Within two or three days, composition was complete. If the process sounds like a madcap scramble, so does the music—in Lebedinsky’s words, “like uncorked champagne.”

---Conductor: Yuri Temirkanov; Orchestra: Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Video: 6 minutes


Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23


Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones; timpani; strings; solo piano

Performance time: 32 minutes

Trained as a pianist as well as a composer, Tchaikovsky was born into the great age of virtuosic concerto composition—the Romantic era of classical music—and his spectacular Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra is one of the staples of the genre.

Concertos had been written for centuries, but Beethoven (born 1770) had raised the stakes; by 1875, when Tchaikovsky was 35 and was composing his Piano Concerto No. 1, pianos and piano concertos had grown in size. Composers followed Beethoven’s lead, relishing the chance to create large-scaled, serious concertos of spectacular difficulty.

More than just popular hits, they also expressed a basic principle of the Romantic age: the individual’s struggle against opposition, the one versus the many. But they were also vehicles for sheer spectacle and elevated the soloist to a sort of cult-virtuoso status. Often seemingly unplayable, they helped make Paganini and Liszt into musical superstars.

Oddly, “unplayable” turns out to be a fateful word in the performance history of Tchaikovsky’s concertos. His Piano Concerto No. 1 and the Violin Concerto in D both suffered this characterization, and both are now among the most beloved concertos in the standard repertory.

When it came to the violin, Tchaikovsky was on less-than-familiar ground. But he was a respected pianist, and created a concerto in which towering grandeur and poetic utterance 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?

Whatever the reason, Rubinstein eventually changed his mind and praised it effusively.

The concerto bursts upon us with a brassy orchestral fanfare introducing thunderous piano chords grouped in threes. They are played in unison with both hands as they move in bold, multi-octave leaps up the keyboard. Even if you had never heard this concerto before, this oft-quoted opening would be instantly recognizable.

But listen again and notice Tchaikovsky’s remarkable musical calculation: the piano soloist grabs the primary role, even entering alone. But once the orchestra enters, it has the melody. Those chords, so full of life and confidence, actually accompany the orchestra’s statement. Once it has been introduced, the piano takes up the melody in a manner that is vigorous but more moderated and less tumultuous, setting up a pattern of alternating grandeur and lyricism that prevails throughout this concerto.

---Martha Argerich, piano - Charles Dutoit, conductor Orchestre de la Suisse Romande 1975. Video: 35 minutes


Crop of portrait of the composer Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov; painting commissioned by Pavel Tretyakov for his portrait gallery.


“Procession of the Nobles” from Mlada

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon; 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, percussion, harp; strings*

Performance time: 5 minutes

Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, percussion, harp; strings*

Performance time: 14 minutes

Russian classical music flowered in the mid- to late-19th century, championed by a group of composers variously known as “the five,” “the mighty five” and “the mighty handful.” They included Alexander Borodin, Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky and their leader, Mily Balakirev. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was not early in joining them, but he is now acknowledged as the most accomplished, and he proved to be the most influential—mentoring a succession of Russian composers up to Stravinsky.

He is also the most popular among today’s listeners, and in the “Procession of the Nobles” from Mlada and the Russian Easter Overture we can hear why. His compositions are brilliantly atmospheric, with remarkable mastery of orchestral texture, glistening harmonies and exotic color.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s flair for medieval times and faraway cultures was fueled in childhood by letters from his seafaring brother Voin, and when he finally earned his own naval commission, he devoured the experience of foreign travel with a passion that remained with him and pervades his music.

The hugely ambitious Mlada, couched in ancient history and mysticism, is often called “Wagnerian” in scope. And opera fans can readily hear a connection between the vivid “Procession of the Nobles,” which opens the second act of Mlada, and the entrance of the burghers, which opens the second act of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. In both of these marches we hear the pomp of aristocrats making their way into a festival setting.

Rimsky-Korsakov was not religious, but was attracted to the dramatic iconography surrounding the Orthodox observance of Russian Easter. The Russian Easter Overture is not a sacred work, but rather a musical narrative depicting the spectacle of Russian Easter from dawn until dusk, incorporating elements of pre-Christian legend as well as Christian symbolism.

Drawing melodic sources from the Obikhod, a collection Russian Orthodox chants, the Russian Easter is a brilliant musical narrative that is folkloric rather than religious in character.

---Mariinsky orchestra, Gergiev Ulianovsk, Russia; Video 15 minutes.


“Polovtsian Dances” from Prince Igor


Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes (2nd doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, percussion, harp; strings*

Performance time: 14 minutes

Considering the enduring distinction Alexander Borodin achieved in his second career, we could wish he had not been so successful in his first, as a physician. Then, perhaps, we would have more of his richly melodic music to enjoy more than 130 years after his death.

The explosively energetic “Polovtsian Dances” from his opera Prince Igor are among a handful of standard-rep compositions that he produced. But they are not merely the work of a gifted amateur; Borodin was an accomplished pianist and cellist who had composed music since childhood, then resumed advanced musical studies as an adult.

Prince Igor is in the tradition of monumental Russian operas that treat historical subjects without flinching at the violence and grimness of Russia’s past. Set in the 12th century, the opera focuses on the reign of Prince Igor Severski, his son Vladimir, and their corrupt rivals.

Borodin worked on this epic work for almost 20 years, and though he never finished it, the opera exists today in workable performing editions that have impressed audiences and critics at the world’s leading opera houses. But the suite of dances from Prince Igor has been popular in concert halls far longer than the opera itself. Listening to their brilliant orchestral textures and folk-like melodies, it’s no surprise that they fit into the drama as festive dances presented as political pageantry. They fairly burst with energy, and have an irresistible appeal. The idea of excerpting dances from musical dramas gained acceptance through the popularity of this virtuosic suite.

---Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Sommernachtskonzert 2012. Video 12 minutes.


1812 Overture, Op. 49


Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 4 French horns, 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, percussion; strings*

Performance time: 13 minutes

It just wouldn’t be summer without the 1812 Overture, would it? With its martial airs, thrilling cannon fusillades and chimes of victory, it holds a special place in the American concert repertory.

But it is actually a musical immigrant. Its themes and their story line are Russian to their very core.

Aural spectacle gets no more spectacular than this suspenseful narrative overture. As musical storytelling it is so vivid that we can smell the gunpowder as it limns the progress of contending forces, 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.

Though American listeners have staked out the 1812 Overture and made it their own, the year 1812 in its title has nothing to do with our own War of 1812; it actually references Napoleon’s catastrophic march toward Moscow and Russia’s successful defense at the Battle of Borodino.

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. Those brass-borne strains of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise”? Those are the bad guys. They are countered by louder strains of the Russian anthem “God Save the Czar.” And, of course, by the Imperial Army and its cannons—16 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. 7 depicting the siege of Leningrad, and in Mussorgsky’s populist opera of czars and political intrigue, Boris Godunov. The common people as hero: now, there’s a democratic value that any patriotic American music lover can appreciate.

---The Royal Concert Orchestra, under the direction of Antonio Pappano. Video 16 minutes.

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.


Meet The Guest Artist: Vadym Kholodenko

Meet The Guest Artist: Vadym Kholodenko

Vadym Kholodenko is fast building a reputation as one of the most musically dynamic, technically gifted performers of the new generation of pianists, praised by the Philadelphia Enquirer in his performance of Tchaikovsky with the Philadelphia Orchestra for “his absorbing melodic shading [and] glittering passage work.” Winner of the 2013 gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Kholodenko has begun to forge an international career throughout Europe, Asia and North America to great critical acclaim.

Previous awards include first prize at the 2011 Schubert Piano Competition in Dortmund, first prize at the 2010 Sendai Piano Competition in Japan and the Grand Prix at the Maria Callas Competition in Athens.

Highlights of the 2017-18 season include concerto engagements with the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitane and Paul Daniel, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and a tour of the U.S. with the Staatskapelle Weimar and Kirill Karabits. He also performs concertos and recitals at the Festival de Mayo in Mexico. Recital tours take him regularly back to the U.S., whilst other highlights include appearances in Paris, Budapest, Beirut and Moscow. He continues as artist-in- residence at the Fribourg International Piano Series with both solo and chamber music programs.

Kholodenko has collaborated with distinguished conductors including Valery Gergiev, Leonard Slatkin, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Yuri Bashmet, Vladimir Spivakov, Kazuki Yamada and Carl St.Clair. In North America he has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic and San Diego Symphony orchestras, and given recitals throughout the country including in Boston and at the Aspen Music Festival.

Kholodenko’s recordings for Harmonia Mundi include the Grieg Piano Concerto and Saint- Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Harth-Bedoya, which was released in August 2015 to critical acclaim and awarded “Editor’s Choice” in Gramophone. His latest release for the label—the first installment of his Prokofiev Concerto Cycle (Nos. 2 & 5)—was praised by Gramophone for its “forthright, lithe and virile performances.” Future releases include the second disc of Prokofiev concertos and solo works by Scriabin.