Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto and Romeo and Juliet (Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, Violin: Alena Baeva)

Accompanied by the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker (Dusseldorf Symphony Orchestra), the Russian violinist Alena Baeva performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovski’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35. Written in 1878, it is one of the best known and most performed violin concertos and is considered one of the most technically difficult works for the violin. In the second part of the concert, the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker performs Tchaikovski’s Romeo and Juliet, TH 42, ČW 39, an orchestral work completed by September 10, 1880, but did not receive its premiere until May 1, 1886. It is styled an Overture-Fantasy and is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Conductor: Alexandre Bloch. Published by the AVROTROS Klassiek channel.

Violinist Alena Baeve and the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker Orchestra conducted by Alexandre Bloch perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto op.35 and the Fantasy Overture from Romeo and Juliet (37:15) at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam.

Programme (with the starting time in the video):

  1. 00:00 Tchaikovski – Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
  2. 37:15 Tchaikovski – Romeo and Juliet

Alena Baeva

Alena Baeva performs Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto
Alena Baeva

Born in 1985 to a musical family, Baeva took her first violin lessons at the age of five under renowned pedagogue Olga Danilova in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan. From 1995 she studied with Professor Eduard Grach at the Central School of Music (an affiliate of the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatoire), and from 2002-2007 at the Moscow Conservatoire itself. In addition to her formal studies, Baeva was a protégée of Mstislav Rostropovich (at whose invitation she studied in France, 2003) and Seiji Ozawa (whose Academy in Switzerland she began attending in 2007).

Aged 16, Baeva won the Grand Prix at the 12th International Henryk Wieniawski Competition (Poland, 2001), as well as the Prize for Best Performance of a Contemporary Work. She went on to take the Grand Prix at the Moscow International Niccolò Paganini Competition (Russia, 2004), including a Special Prize allowing her to perform on the 1723 Wieniawski Stradivari for one year, and was also awarded both the Gold Medal and the Audience Prize at the Sendai International Violin Competition (Japan, 2007).

With an already vast and rapidly expanding repertoire, including over forty violin concerti, Baeva is a champion of lesser known works. Her extensive discography reflects the impressive breadth of her repertoire, with recordings of Bruch and Shostakovich, Szymanowski (DUX), Debussy, Poulenc, and Prokofiev (SIMC). She has been frequently broadcast live in concert on radio and television across Europe, Asia, and North America.

Amongst the conductors with whom she works regularly, Baeva has long-standing collaborations with Valery Gergiev and Vladimir Jurowski. Her performance of Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.2 features as part of the box-set DVD collection released by Arthaus Musik in 2015; and – following their work together in Moscow – Baeva and Jurowski will come together again for her debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in December 2018. The 2018/2019 season will also see Alena Baeva make her debut with Paavo Järvi & NHK Symphony Orchestra, in Tokyo.

Other conductor collaborations to date include Vladimir Fedoseyev, Pablo Heras-Casado, Jacek Kaspszyk, Krzysztof Penderecki, Sakari Oramo, Thomas Sanderling, and Kazuki Yamada, and chamber music partnerships have featured such esteemed musicians as Martha Argerich, Yuri Bashmet, Steven Isserlis, Nikolai Lugansky, and Misha Maisky. Baeva’s regular sonata partner is Vadym Kholodenko, with whom she has established a musical partnership of more than a decade.

Recent and future concerto highlights include Weimar Staatskapelle/Kirill Karabits (R. Strauss), Düsseldorf Symphony/Alexander Bloch (Tchaikovsky), Freiburg Philarmonic/Jader Bignamini (Bartok No.2), American Symphony/Leon Botstein (Bacewicz No.7), Philharmonie Zuidnederland/Dmitri Liss (Szymanowski No.1), Orchestre National de Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus (Prokofiev No.2), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Grzegorz Nowak (Karłowicz), London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski (Tchaikovsky), and NHK Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi (R. Strauss).

Baeva enjoys a particularly strong profile in Russia, working regularly with the Mariinsky Orchestra, MusicaÆterna, the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’ (GASO), and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, amongst others. Elsewhere, she works with top orchestras and ensembles such as the Israel Camerata, London Philharmonic, Luxembourg Philharmonic, Netherlands Philharmonic, NHK Symphony, and Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra. Baeva is a regular performer at major international festivals across Europe.

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto

The piece is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in A and B-flat, two bassoons, four horns in F, two trumpets in D, timpani and strings.

It is among the most popular violin concertos, and still in use in popular media. It has a central role in the 2009 French comedy film Le Concert and is played during the final scene. It is also heard briefly during the 2014 American action neo-noir vigilante crime thriller film The Equalizer.

In the pilot episode of the Amazon Prime Instant Video series Mozart in the Jungle parts of the last movement are played by Joshua Bell. It was also used in 2002 Chinese drama film “Together” in the last scenes, and used in the soundtrack to the 2011 American documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

The concerto follows the typical pattern of a fast movement, then a slow movement, then a fast finale. It is in three movements (there is no break or pause between the second and third movements):

  1. Allegro moderato (D major) The first movement starts with a quiet string melody, before building up to introduce the solo violin. The violin plays the main theme, later we hear the second theme. This leads to a huge repeat of the main theme for the whole orchestra. Afterward, we hear the solo violin doing some interesting versions of the main theme. Now we come to an amazing cadenza, where the violinist gets the chance to show off with amazingly fast runs and violin tricks. The soloist plays around with both themes, taking bits of them and extending them imaginatively. Eventually, we hear the second theme repeated before a very lively section rounds the first movement off.
  2. Canzonetta: Andante (G minor) The second movement is short and very lyrical. It’s filled with nostalgia and warmth. Tchaikovsky actually rewrote this from scratch after he realized his original second movement didn’t really fit the rest of the concerto. In any case, the gentleness of this movement is a great bridge between the intensity of the first and third movements.
  3. Finale: Allegro vivacissimo (D major) The third movement is the breathtaking finale. The violin goes back to its folk roots, and gleefully runs and leaps all over the place. The movement has a dramatic Russian spirit, with dazzling speed and skill from the soloist.

At the premiere of the concerto, the audience booed more than they applauded the work. In fact, the crowd had mixed opinions: they applauded the soloist, Adolph Brodsky (2 April [O.S. 21 March] 1851 – January 22, 1929), the Russian Empire violinist; but booed and hissed the concerto itself! Even the orchestra didn’t like the music and played very quietly to not upset people.

German Bohemian music critic Eduard Hanslick wrote:

“The violin is no longer played, but torn apart, pounded black and blue… Friedrich Fischer… once said that there existed pictures one could see stink. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto brings us face to face for the first time with the revolting thought: may there not also exist musical compositions that we can hear stink?”

Such harsh criticism was very painful to the composer, and he never forgot the bad review, rereading it so often that he eventually memorized it. But even Hanslick could not stop the progress of music, and Brodsky soon repeated the work in London to great success. In subsequent years he and others championed it throughout the world, and today it is, with good reason, one of the most loved violin concertos ever written.

Romeo and Juliet, TH 42, ČW 39

Composed in 1869, between his 1st and 2nd Symphonies, “Romeo and Juliet” was arguably Tchaikovsky’s first true masterpiece. The piece is styled an Overture-Fantasy and is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

It was the Russian composer Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev (2 January 1837 [O.S. 21 December 1836] – 29 May [O.S. 16 May] 1910) who gave Tchaikovsky the idea of taking the William Shakespeare’s work and setting it to music. Tchaikovsky was having difficulties writing an opera entitled Undine, which he would eventually destroy. Though he complained, “I’m completely burned out,” Balakirev persisted, as was his manner. Balakirev wrote suggestions about the structure of Romeo and Juliet, giving details of the type of music required in each section, and even opinions on which keys to use.

Balakirev had suggested his own overture King Lear as a model for Romeo.

Désirée Artôt
Désirée Artôt (21 July 1835 – 3 April 1907) was a Belgian soprano (initially a mezzo-soprano), who was famed in German and Italian opera and sang mainly in Germany. In 1868 she was engaged, briefly, to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who claimed she was the only woman he ever loved, and who may have coded her name into works such as his First Piano Concerto and the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture. After her 1869 marriage to the Spanish baritone Mariano Padilla y Ramos, she was known as Désirée Artôt de Padilla or Désirée Artôt-Padilla.

In the winter of 1868-69, when he was a 28-year-old professor at the Moscow Conservatory, for the first (and only) time in his life, Pyotr Ilyich fell in love with a woman – the Belgian soprano Désirée Artôt. In 1868 they were engaged, but shortly after, Artôt suddenly brought their relationship to an end and married with the Spanish baritone Mariano Padilla y Ramos. Some claims when Tchaikovsky next saw her on the stage, he wept all evening.

In the mood of love and broken heart, Tchaikovsky was ready to write his own work, while basing Romeo and Juliet on King Lear was Balakirev’s suggestion, reducing the plot of the former to one central conflict and then combining it with the binary structure of sonata form. After the first performance on March 16, 1870, Tchaikovsky revised the work radically twice.

The first version of Romeo and Juliet contained basically an opening fugato and a confrontation of the two themes-exactly what an academically trained composer might be expected to produce. While Balakirev responded to the love theme by writing Tchaikovsky, “I play it often, and I want very much to hug you for it”, he also discarded many of the early drafts Tchaikovsky sent him-the opening, for instance, sounded more like a Haydn quartet than the Liszt chorale he had suggested initially-and the piece was constantly in the mail between Moscow and St. Petersburg, going to Tchaikovsky or Balakirev.

Tchaikovsky accepted some, but not all, of Balakirev’s nagging, and completed the work, dedicating it to Balakirev. The first performance on March 16, 1870 was hindered by a sensational court case surrounding the conductor, Tchaikovsky’s friend Nikolai Rubinstein, and a female student. The court had found against the eminent musician the previous day, and this incited a noisy demonstration in his favour when he appeared on the concert platform, which proved much more interesting to the audience than the new overture. The result was not encouraging as a premiere for Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky said of the premiere:

“After the concert, we dined…. No one said a single word to me about the overture the whole evening. And yet I yearned so for appreciation and kindness.”

The initial failure of Romeo and Juliet induced Tchaikovsky to fully accept Balakirev’s criticisms and rework the piece. It also forced Tchaikovsky to reach beyond his musical training and rewrite much of the music into the form we know today. This included the unacademic but dramatically brilliant choice of leaving the love theme out of the development section, saving its confrontation with the first theme (the conflict of the Capulets and Montagues) for the second half of the recapitulation. In the exposition, the love theme remains shielded from the violence of the first theme. In the recapitulation the first theme strongly influences the love theme and ultimately destroys it. By following this pattern, Tchaikovsky shifts the true musical conflict from the development section to the recapitulation, where it climaxes in dramatic catastrophe.

Meanwhile, Rubinstein had become impressed with Tchaikovsky’s compositional talents in general and with Romeo and Juliet in particular. He arranged for the publishing house Bote and Bock to publish the piece in 1870. This was considered an accomplishment since Tchaikovsky’s music was virtually unknown in Germany at the time. Balakirev thought Tchaikovsky was rushing Romeo and Juliet to press prematurely. “It is a pity that you, or rather Rubinstein, should have rushed the publication of the Overture,” he wrote to the composer. “Although the new introduction is a decided improvement, there were other changes I had wanted you to make. I had hoped that for the sake of your future compositions, this one would remain in your hands somewhat longer.” Balakirev closed by hoping that P. Jurgenson would sometime agree to bring out a “revised and improved version of the Overture.” The second version was premiered in St. Petersburg on February 17, 1872, under Eduard Nápravník.

In 1880, ten years after his first reworking of the piece, Tchaikovsky rewrote the ending and gave the piece the sub-title “Overture-Fantasia”. It was completed by September 10, 1880, but did not receive its premiere until May 1, 1886, in Tbilisi, Georgia (then part of the Russian Empire), under Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov.

This third and final version is the one that is now in the repertoire. The earlier versions are performed occasionally as historical curiosities.

There is one movement: Andante non tanto quasi Moderato-Allegro giusto (B minor, 522 bars). The overture is scored for an orchestra comprising piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (in A), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in E), 3 trombones, tuba + timpani, cymbals, bass drum + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky at the time he wrote Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Wikipedia

Sources

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