Different facets of Tchaikovsky will be presented by Italian orchestra conductor Carlo Rizzi for this monographic concert. The programme will include his Symphony No. 5, Variations on a Rococo Theme for Chello and Orchestra and the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture based on the work by Shakespeare. La Monnaie invites you to discover or rediscover the extraordinary talent of this exceptional Russian composer.
The programme for your next symphonic concert is devoted entirely to Tchaikovsky. Why this choice?
Tchaikovsky is a composer whom I appreciate enormously, but who is greatly misunderstood and whose work is often misinterpreted. He is often considered as an easy composer, with pretty melodies and bubbly rhythms. This is of course partly true, but I think that Tchaikovsky's work is much more complex than that. If we go beyond the glittering appearances, we discover very different music, with an underlying tone which is more gloomy and even somewhat pessimistic. In general, this aspect does not show through at first. Tchaikovsky is also an important composer to me on a personal level: I started studying his music with my Russian professor when I was very young. We analysed his symphonies together. This is how I gathered a lot of fundamental information which was necessary in order to really understand his works. My first concert at La Monnaie in 2008 opened with a composition by Tchaikovsky.
In 2008, you conducted his Symphony No. 1 'Winter Dreams', in 2010, his Symphony No. 4, and now his Symphony No. 5. What makes you enthusiastic about his symphonies in general, and Symphony No. 5 in particular?
I find that all of his symphonies contain a sort of conflict, and that they are evidence of an almost titanic struggle with the world. Although he was not keen on programme music, he did not want to commit himself to pure formalism in his symphonies. While he saw an obvious difference between the symphonic poem – with a well-defined literary programme – and a symphony – with a more vague programme – there is always a narration behind Tchaikovsky's music, which is precisely what appeals to me. This year, we are performing his Symphony No. 5. The entire work is dominated by a single theme, which is integrated into the four movements. It returns all the time in the form of variations. According to Tchaikovsky, the theme of this symphony is providence. As he wrote the first movement to represent absolute resignation in the face of destiny, we might therefore consider the rest of the symphony to represent providence as it takes over gradually. I can, however, detect great distrust in the slow movement of this work – a movement which is not limited to a beautiful horn and oboe melody, as is often maintained. This is unquestionably the case, but there is more to it. It is also a fight and a confrontation.
This is the third symphony by Tchaikovsky which you are conducting with La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra. Do you intend to present a complete cycle?
We shall see. But it is quite likely that we shall continue the cycle. We would not be ready for a few years. Everything of course depends on the practical possibilities of the orchestra as well as mine.
In addition to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, there is another virtuoso work on the programme: Variations on a Rococo Theme for Chello and Orchestra. Why have you chosen this work?
For the audience, this work is very interesting: it calls on a soloist, but it is not simply a concerto. It is Tchaikovsky's tribute to the classical style which he was very fond of. He tried to evoke the sound universe of the 18th century not only through the rococo theme, but also through a smaller orchestra size. It is a magnificent piece, full of refinement and virtuosity. The music is more descriptive without ever being superficial, in addition to being a truly challenging work in which the soloist may demonstrate all of his or her talent. I think that when Tchaikovsky composed this work he was thinking more of the public, whereas the symphony is more like a cry from the heart and a very personal creation. I have never conducted Variations on a Rococo Theme and am therefore even more delighted to do so with La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra.
The soloist in Variations on a Rococo Theme is Justus Grimm, a musician from La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra.
Yes. I think it is very important to let the incredible soloists from the orchestra be heard in concertante works. They should not only be given opportunities in chamber music ensembles, but also as soloists. It is crucial for the health of an orchestra.
The concert begins with the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.
Yes, we decided to begin the concert with this piece. It includes a certain number of key passages from Shakespeare's work and its structure is determined by the literary programme. For example, we hear the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues, as well as the famous ‘love theme’ which evokes the balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet, with the cor anglais personifying Romeo and the flute, Juliet. This descriptive work reveals another Tchaikovsky.
You bring many facets of Tchaikovsky together in one evening.
I think that the programme is balanced and has a true crescendo: not in terms of beauty – as all of these works are beautiful – but in terms of intensity. We begin with a simpler work followed by a virtuoso work, and end with a serious work. I hope we will show that it is time to rid Tchaikovsky of his doubtful reputation!
Interview by Reinder Pols