Tchaikovsky

Dance

Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante and Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Robbins’ Cage and Andantino at the New York City Ballet

The style of the New York City Ballet is almost tree-like, branching and spreading in a floral rather than faunal manner, achieving a harmonious whole that is not purely rational or classical or athletic or anything covered by a single label. Their pure and natural variety of grace certainly suits Balanchine’s choreography, bringing out its best qualities. Allegro Brilliante, as the title might suggest, opens with style and grace, there is a certain abstraction with this stylish dancing before a plain blue screen and following no definite plot or action. We have Tchaikovsky’s music speaking to us very eloquently through Clotilde Otranto’s baton and Elaine Chelton’s fingers, music with fairly strong and definite, but not heavy, emotions. The costumes, the women’s light dresses in gentle hues and secondary colors and the men’s loose sleeves and waistcoats, do not place them absolutely as characters, but are enough to complement simply the movements. Yet there is a sense of a social entity, of mute social forces at work, drowned out by the music perhaps, and even a suggestion of court in the group scenes in their almost 17th Century style of abstraction, as they blur the lines slightly between social and theatrical dancing; the interactions of the dancers on stage are absorbing and interesting, brought across by their dramatic sense, their sense of theatre. The dancing doesn’t borrow openly from any real historical form but somehow the push and pull of social dancing is suggested. The piece at least gives the feeling of being indoors. Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette dancing the leads give a particularly strong sense of conversation in their dancing together in the pas de deux and also amongst the larger group. Nothing happens, the ballet remains abstract, yet it develops in an arc into something very moving and ineffable beyond the music, as if the entire piece, developed into a whole wishes to give something to you, and the performance succeeded in this and the lack of downrightness was very refreshing.
Music

The Amazing Daniil Trifonov with The Russian National Orchestra

One of the joys with a visiting orchestra is to experience new sonorities—to be swept richly downward, perhaps, to unanticipated string depths—to hear brass playing grainier or more golden than you thought possible in the hall—or wind passages lighter and more personal than you might have dreamed. More importantly, you come to sense the ensemble's psychology, as individual in its way as the conductor's. Listen to an orchestra like the Mariinsky, and you experience shivers of delight. How Russian it seems!

New York Arts in Australia

The Sydney Symphony Becomes Opera Impresario with a Memorable Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky in Concert

Tchaikovsky wrote Queen of Spades, in 1890, and one other opera, Iolanta, in 1891, near the end of his life after having promised never to write another opera because of the unpopularity of The Sorceress (1887). For theatre, these were very fertile years for Tchaikovsky. The Mariinksy first performed Sleeping Beauty in 1890 and Nutcracker in 1892. He wrote Queen of Spades at a Mozartean rate in Florence where it is said he composed the music faster than his brother Modest wrote and sent the libretto scene by scene. Perhaps living in Florence gave him enough distance from the darker, more repellent aspects of the story to avoid getting run down by it, but anyhow it seems a strange subject for him to choose, especially surprising to hear the incredibly lyrical music he created for it. The antihero Hermann is repellent, but for some of the beautiful music Tchaikovsky gave him, yet even so Hermann’s are not as beautiful as Don Giovanni’s arias (and duets), but I don’t believe Tchaikovsky thought or intended his music to be as beautiful as Mozart’s.
Music

Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony’s Tchaikovsky Mini Festival Opens with Manfred and Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto, Scott Davie, Piano

Rachmaninoff’s 4th Piano Concerto didn’t deserve to be cut. It seems to have received, in any version, the homeric epithet “Rachmaninoff’s least popular” since it wasn’t popular at the première (1927) and wasn’t much more loved after the revisions (1928 and 1941), but this is perhaps as much due to the immense and perennial popularity of the 2nd and 3rd as any intrinsic quality of the 4th, and the unpopular label seems now to be beginning to give the original version a little bit of underdog cred. The original longer version was only published in 2000, and this performance, according to the Sydney Symphony, is the first of this version in Australia. It is a fascinating case of audience expectations based on a composer’s perceived style and the composer worrying too much about pleasing them. Luckily the original was not lost. Even so it is not very long, though it does have a leisurely, operatic quality to its pacing, almost a Mahlerian pace, but with its drama turned in, more psychological and untidy than the other concerti, and so it is not as exciting as the other concerti. It does not have too solid a form holding it together, it doesn’t tell a ‘story’ with beginning middle and end as the others do more obviously. It is not linear, or at least it is taller than it is long with all those enormous, thick, rich chords which defy a simple analysis and the long runs of impossibly fast notes which are not exactly melodic — maybe more harmonic as they ring in that resonant Steinway piano — but the melodies in the piece with the exception of the opening one are more like fragments of leitmotif without staging to help explain them. The opening theme returns here and there but it seems odd in its return, almost an interruption of the of the pensive, contemplative revery of the music, almost like the sudden landing of an eagle, or an angel, or a strange golden shaft of light. But the 20th century romantic music doesn’t need a strict form since Rachmaninoff’s concept is not architectural or plastic. The wonderful thing about music is that you don’t have to worry whether it will stand up.
Music

The San Francisco Symphony Opens its New Season with Semyon Bychkov

There is always something a little peculiar about opening week at the San Francisco Symphony. Audiences have been away for the summer and are distractible. The orchestra may sound a bit less used to itself than usual. Sunlight in the lobby is still too bright for anyone to settle down. And programming commonly amounts either to a Gala smorgasbord or a visit to Denny's, but seldom manages subtlety for musical gourmets. No different this year, but with a few wacky touches from the peanut gallery — about which more in a moment.
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