Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony: A Haunting Farewell

A romantic myth has grown up around Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. The composer’s final work has been cast as a kind of despairing musical suicide note. It is true that Tchaikovsky died just over a week after conducting the Symphony’s premiere on October 28, 1893, probably as a result of drinking cholera-infected water. But while Tchaikovsky’s personal battles and bouts with depression have been well-documented, he completed the Sixth Symphony on an emotional upswing. …

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New Release: Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil

Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker, was received with ambivalence when it premiered at Saint Petersburg’s Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in December, 1892. Now, over a century later, E.T.A Hoffmann’s heroic story of death and rebirth comes alive on ballet stages around the world as a staple of the holiday season. It’s a piece filled with haunting melancholy and dreamy, shimmering magic. All of this can be heard in Tchaikovsky’s music, with its exotic, soaring melodies and lush, colorful orchestration. In …

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Leonard Rose: Five Great Recordings

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Rose (1918-1984), one of the greatest cellists of the twentieth century. Born in Washington, D.C. into a family of Ukrainian immigrants, Rose joined Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra as associate principal cellist at the age of 20. At 21 he became principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1943, at age 26, he accepted the same position with the New York Philharmonic. In 1951 …

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Remembering Gennady Rozhdestvensky

The esteemed Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky passed away last Saturday. He was 87. Following studies at the Moscow Conservatory, Rozhdestvensky made his conducting debut at the age of 20 at the Bolshoi Theatre with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. He went on to lead the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1978-1981), the USSR Ministry of Culture Orchestra (1983-1991) and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (1992-1995), among other ensembles. Rozhdestvensky will be remembered for his associations with some of the …

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Excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty”

I spent last weekend in the orchestra pit playing Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty for Richmond Ballet. Even as I’ve moved on to new programs this week, fragments of Tchaikovsky’s haunting score have continued to play in my mind, inspiring me to investigate a few recordings, old and new. Premiered in January, 1890 at Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, The Sleeping Beauty is often overshadowed by Tchaikovsky’s two other ballet scores, Swan Lake (1876) and The Nutcracker (1892). This is a shame, because it …

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Tchaikovsky, From Elation to Despair

Over the weekend, I found myself returning to Friday’s post to listen to Ja vas lyublyu, the famous aria from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s opera, The Queen of Spades. It occurred to me that the aria’s progression from soaring passion to gloomy despair is echoed throughout many of Tchaikovsky’s works. In many cases, this dichotomy of elation and despair relates to a reoccurring theme of doomed love. Besides The Queen of Spades, a dark, haunting tragedy based loosely on …

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Remembering Dmitri Hvorostovsky

The Russian operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky passed away this week following a two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer. He was 55. Here are some highlights from his distinguished career: In the aria, Ja vas lyublyu, from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Prince Yeletsky pours out his love for Liza while lamenting her inability to trust him fully. Listen to the way this aria moves from majestically soaring passion to the depths of despair as the …

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