In all of classical music, few composers are more beloved than Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Though the bombastic 1812 Overture and the enchanting ballet The Nutcracker are some of Tchaikovsky’s best-known works, almost every note that poured from his pen remains popular with audiences.
Igor Stravinsky proclaimed Tchaikovsky to be “the most Russian of all composers,” but Tchaikovsky’s music has universal appeal. So much so that the Grand Rapids Symphony performs an all-Tchaikovsky concert on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 8-9.
Music Director Marcelo Lehninger leads music of Tchaikovsky with “well-known and unknown pieces” as he put it.
Tchaikovsky Festival is at 8 p.m. in DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW. “Inside the Music,” a free, pre-concert talk, begins at 7 p.m. Tickets for concerts in the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical start at $18 adults, $5 students. Call (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or go online to GRSymphony.org.
Joining Grand Rapids Symphony is cellist Andrei Ioniţă to perform Tchaikovsky’s popular Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, which the late 19th century composer paid homage to the lighter 18th century music of Mozart and Haydn.
The Romanian cellist is Gold Medalist of the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, one of the world’s most prestigious music competitions.
“It was the most intense competition experience I’ve ever had, and I believe the other competitors would agree with me as well,” Ioniţă told the classical music blog Interlude shortly after his victory.
“It’s not necessarily the pressure from outside, from the jury, from the possibility of either winning or losing, from all the cameras or the thousands of people watching and following you,” Ioniţă added. “I would say that the pressure mostly comes from the inside – it becomes a battle with your own demons, with your fears, your pride.”
Ioniţă, who will make his Grand Rapids Symphony debut, also will perform Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile for Cello and Orchestra, an arrangement of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1, which uses a Ukrainian folk song as one of its main themes.
“He’s a wonderful young cellist,” said Lehninger, who worked pervious with the 25-year-old musician.
The Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus will join the orchestra to sing a youthful, less familiar work titled “At Bedtime,” which Tchaikovsky composed during his student days.
Familiar music on the program on this weekend’s concerts includes Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which reflects the composer’s disastrous marriage that would end in divorce less than a year later.
In a letter to his friend and supporter, Madame von Meck, Tchaikovsky revealed the meaning behind his Fourth Symphony. “The introduction is the germ of the entire symphony, its central idea. This is Fate, the force that prevents our hopes of happiness from being realized, that jealously watches to see that peace and happiness not be complete or unclouded. Successive new themes express growing discontent and despair. A sweet vision appears but bitter Fate awakens us. Life is a continuous, shifting, grim reality.”
The composer was pleased with the symphony and considered it to be some of his best work. Though in another letter to von Meck, Tchaikovsky couldn’t help but wonder of the fate of the symphony itself. “What lies in store for this symphony? Will it survive long after its author has disappeared from the face of the earth, or straight away plunge into the depths of oblivion?”