"Truly there would be reason to go mad were it not for music." - Peter Tchaikovsky
Saturday night I attended a performance of the music of Borodin, Khachaturian, and Tchaikovsky with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tugan Sokhiev, music director of the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. The performance was impressive.
The concert opened with an orchestral miniature from Alexander Borodin. Russian Romantic composers are composed short tone poems, the most famous being those from Anatol Liadov such as "Baba Yaga" and "The Enchanted Lake". Borodin's composed "In the Steppes of Central Asia" in 1880 and it was premiered in St. Petersburg under Rimsky-Korsakov's baton that year. It is a tonal picture that depicts the Russians conquering the natives of the steppe region with reference songs of both peoples. The result is a very expressive piece that gradually builds from a peaceful slow opening to a great climax before subsiding with the music drifting off into the distance.
Following that the orchestra performed a piece from 1968 that is Jean Pierre Rampal's arrangement for flute of Aram Khachaturian's Violin Concerto of 1940. The original concerto is a technically-demanding virtuoso concerto for the violin and the arrangement for flute by Rampal lost none of that style. The soloist was Mathieu Dufour, principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His performance was truly stunning and elicited an immediate unanimous standing ovation from the audience.
The second half of the concert was devoted to the Fourth Symphony, Op. 36, of Peter Tchaikovsky. First performed in 1878 in Moscow, this is one of the most powerful romantic symphonies by the great Russian composer. He composed the symphony at a particularly troubled time in his life, and it can be seen ( as in the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies) as a musical portrait of the composer. He had, during work on the score, entered into an ill-considered and short-lived marriage to one of his pupils, and soon found himself in the throes of a deep depression bordering on despair. He recovered from this--and completed the symphony--during a six-month visit to Switzerland and Italy. One positive note in his life was his long distance epistolary relationship with Nadeshda von Meck. She became both his patroness and frequent correspondent, both lightening his financial burdens (he was able to give up his professorship and compose full time) and providing him with a sympathetic ear.
It was in one of his letters to Mme. von Meck that he described in outline a program for this symphony. He wrote that the introduction "contains the germ of the entire symphony, without question its central idea: This is Fate, the fatal force that prevents our striving for happiness". This theme dominates the first movement and returns in the finale, and Allegro con fuoco. In the middle movements a melancholy dominates contrasted with a scherzo filled with pizzicato strings (perhaps mimicking the balalaika) and lively winds. The combination of melodies provided both material well-suited for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and music that delighted the audience.