The Music Plays On — Tchaikovsky Symphony №5

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While the music critics of the New York Times beat me to the punch this morning (hey, they’re pros at this),

I’ve decided to make a commitment to my friends, the concert goers of the California Symphony and the Las Vegas Philharmonic that every day, and until rehearsals begin again for my next concert, I’m going to share with you my favorite performances and recordings. I’ll try to share them through readily accessible sites like YouTube and Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall, which for the time being is also free! I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest writer, but I do know recordings and most of the great video performances out there. I’m going to begin with the music that you would’ve heard on the upcoming concerts, but my tastes are eclectic, so don’t be surprised if you see music ranging from (A)dams to (Z)ydeco’s Beausoleil!

Tchaikovsky Symphony №5

A piece that’s often programmed to suss out a guest conductor who might be in the orchestra’s sights as a potential music director, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony №5 is a work that audiences love to hear and orchestras love to play. Why is that? Well, from an orchestra’s point of view, there is something for every section of the orchestra to play. Fun solos for the woodwinds, rich sounds for each string sections to dig into, big bold music for the brass to chew up (not to mention perhaps the most famous french horn solo in the second movement). From an audience’s perspective, it tells a story in 45 minutes that’s akin to an epic story by Tolstoy. Tchaikovsky does this through using the same theme in every movement, first heard by the clarinets at the very beginning of the first movement, quietly and mysteriously, and finally heard by the entire orchestra near the very end of the last movement.

Without doubt, one of the greatest modern performances that has recently been captured on video is by Kirill Petrenko and the Berlin Philharmonic. Maestro Petrenko comes to music with deep philosophical and emotional intention. If his interviews are anything like his rehearsals, which I haven’t seen, yet, then the Berliners are truly lucky to have him as their music director. I first encourage you to watch the interview (it’s in German, but the subtitles are excellent).

One of the greatest interpreters of Tchaikovsky, and indeed all Russian music, was the conductor, Evgeny Mravinsky. He was the music director of the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Philharmonic for an astounding 50 years. Here is a great hour-long documentary on him:

To watch him conduct Tchaikovsky in this performance is like taking a time machine back to another century, not the 20th but the 19th!

Finally, here are the famous studio recordings he made in 1960 in Vienna while on tour with the Leningrad Philharmonic of Tchaikovsky’s 4th, 5th, and 6th symphonies.

This should keep all of you busy until at least tomorrow! Enjoy!

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Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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