Tchaikovsky in New York

Tchaikovsky in New York

A month-long festival at Carnegie Hall celebrates Tchaikovsky.

Published: October 12, 2011 (Issue # 1678)

New York City’s Carnegie Hall inaugurated its 120th season with a month-long festival dedicated to the work of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky on Oct. 5.

Commemorating the composer’s 19th-century American debut on the concert hall’s opening night, “Tchaikovsky in St. Petersburg” kicked off with a gala performance of his “Variations on a Rococo Theme” by Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

When Tchaikovsky arrived in the U.S. in 1891 he was already one of the world’s most illustrious and popular living musicians. By then his opera, ballet and concert music had been enjoying success on the world’s stages for more than a decade. Arriving in New York, he was embraced by American audiences and feted by the city’s beau monde. For a composer whose work had been so often maligned at home, it was perhaps unsurprising that he took an instant liking to the place, remarking that “people in the United States know my work better than they do in Russia, in my own home.”

For most of the composer’s short lifetime Tchaikovsky regularly divided opinion. While universally popular with concertgoers, his reputation with the critics and his peers had been fraught with drama and politics. And in a 20th century shattered by war and absorbed with “serious” atonal music, his compositions were seen as a bit too precious to be taken seriously. Relatively recently, however, a new appreciation for the composer’s output has emerged, led in no small part by maestro Gergiev’s tireless efforts.

In addition to leading the opening night gala, Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra performed all six Tchaikovsky symphonies on successive nights as well as another concert dedicated to the composer’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” with soloist Daniil Trifonov, this year’s winner of the Tchaikovsky prize. The orchestra has just released new recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies No. 4, 5 and 6, and will reprise its performance of the piano concerto at the Mariinsky Concert Hall on Oct. 25.

Meanwhile, back in New York, the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York will present a program of sacred music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Arensky on Oct. 22. Ensemble ACJW, a group of young musicians associated with Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School and the Weill Music Institute, will perform three mournful classics of Russian romanticism on Oct 25, including a Tchaikovsky piano trio.

Bringing things full circle, the festival will finally wind down on Oct. 26 with another much-anticipated American first for Carnegie Hall, this time by Russian soprano Anna Netrebko. For her U.S. recital debut, Netrebko will sing a selection of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky romances accompanied by pianist Yelena Bashkirova.

No stranger to New Yorkers, Netrebko has been performing dramatic roles at the city’s Metropolitan Opera for the past ten years. In September she opened the Met’s 128th season in a new production of “Anna Bolena” directed by David McVicar, for which the diva was accorded a rare solo curtain call.

For those who weren’t around 120 years ago when Carnegie Hall switched on its lights for the first time, this month offers a chance to experience some of the magical excitement of that far-off night.

For more information about “Tchaikovsky in St. Petersburg” visit

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