Augustin Hadelich plays Tchaikovsky

Sunday, August 20, 2023 , 6:30 PM

Florence Price (arr. Peter Stanley Martin): Andante moderato from String Quartet No. 1 in G Major for String Orchestra

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Concerto in D Major for Violin, Op. 35

Andante moderato from String Quartet No. 1 in G Major for String Orchestra

Florence Price (1888-1953), arranged by Peter Stanley Martin

Composed: 1929
Length: c. 10 minutes
Instrumentation: Strings

Florence Price is among a growing list of prolific African American composers whose music is being rediscovered by 21st-century classical music audiences. Her major breakthrough came in 1932, when her Symphony No. 1 won the Rodman Wanamaker Prize for a symphonic composition by an African American composer. This win not only brought considerable financial reward but also led to a premiere of the work by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—the first performance of a symphonic work by an African American woman by a major orchestra in the United States. She would go on to write four symphonies, three large-scale concertos, numerous other orchestral works, and hundreds of vocal and piano pieces.

Although Price achieved success during her lifetime, her works were less frequently programmed after her death in 1953. A surprising discovery of boxes of her unpublished scores in 2009 in an abandoned house outside of Chicago led to renewed interest. Among the discoveries was a score to her first String Quartet, a two-movement work composed in 1929. Like many of Price’s pieces, this work effortlessly joins together European classical and American spiritual traditions. Tonight, we hear Price’s arrangement of the second movement of the quartet for string orchestra.

Concerto in D Major for Violin, Op. 35

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Composed: 1878
Length: c. 34 minutes
Instrumentation: Solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings

In 1877, Tchaikovsky went abroad for some time to clear his head after a devastating and quickly dissolved marriage, ushering in one of the most creatively successful periods of his life. By early 1878, he had completed his groundbreaking Fourth Symphony and his opera Eugene Onegin. In early March while staying at Lake Geneva, Tchaikovsky was visited by violinist Josef Kotek, with whom he played through a number of scores, among them Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole for violin and orchestra. Tchaikovsky found the piece to have “freshness, lightness, piquant rhythms, and beautifully harmonized melodies,” and was inspired to compose his own violin concerto. Just one week after playing through the Lalo, Tchaikovsky wrote in a letter:

The first movement of my violin concerto is already finished. Tomorrow, I shall set about the second. Ever since the day when the auspicious mood came upon me, it has not left me. In such a phase of spiritual life, composition completely loses the character of work: it is pure enjoyment. While you are writing, you don’t notice how time is passing, and if no one came to interrupt the work, you would sit all day without getting up.

With Kotek’s input on the virtuoso violin part, Tchaikovsky was able to complete the entire score of the concerto within the month despite completely rewriting the middle movement.

Tchaikovsky dedicated the work to St. Petersburg violinist and venerated teacher Leopold Auer, a disastrous choice. Auer declared it unplayable, not only refusing to play it himself but using his influence to discourage others, including Kotek, from performing it. The composer was crestfallen and had all but given up on his “unfortunate child” when the young, enthusiastic violinist Adolf Brodsky took up its cause and finally managed to get the concerto performed in Vienna in 1881. After some initial awful reviews, Tchaikovsky was vindicated, as his concerto became known and loved throughout the world; even Auer eventually performed it, months before Tchaikovsky’s death. Auer ended up editing the concerto somewhat, changes that for a time became standard. Mr. Hadelich has made it a point of honoring Tchaikovsky’s original score for his own interpretation.

What to listen for

  • First movement: Notice the test of endurance for Mr. Hadelich in this expressive and lyrical music: from the beginning of the cadenza until the thrilling end of the movement, there is literally no break for the soloist! Mr. Hadelich has mentioned the importance of warming up for at least 45 minutes before performing “one of the most exhausting concertos in the violin repertoire.”
  • Second movement: The beautiful G minor lament is sung by the muted solo violin, which is framed by an unusual wind chorale in the orchestra.
  • Third movement: The amusing second section begins slowly and deliberately in the violin’s lowest register but quickly breaks out into a dance of its own.

Program notes by Jon Kochavi