Conductor: Lorin Maazel
Tchaikovsky: Suite No 3 in G Major, Op. 55
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
Just got back from (where else?) the Kennedy Center where I attended an absolutely glorious all-Tchaikovsky concert by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Lorin Maazel. Their relationship goes way back as he first conducted the orchestra 60 years ago when he was a mere 12-year old, and now he’s getting ready to bid them farewell. Time sure flies… More recently, they made headlines all over the world for being the first American orchestra ever to perform in Pyongyang, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Another interesting fact is that it is one of the oldest orchestras in the world (and the oldest in the US), and it gave its 14,000th concert on December 2004, which is, according to the program, “a milestone unmatched by any other symphony orchestra in the world.”
Their home is the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center, but I have to admit that I’ve only been there twice and never connected to the place. Its U-shape makes me feel like in a warehouse and its acoustics are nothing to write home about. It has enticing programs, to be sure, but I’d much rather go down to Carnegie Hall and get there as often as I can, although not as often as I’d like. Of course, The Kennedy Center acoustics are nothing exceptional either, but at least the commute is much easier.
I was anticipating this afternoon concert with much impatience because I’m a die-hard Tchaikovsky fan and could only imagine how good his music would sound played by such seasoned performers. And I was not disappointed. The first piece, the Suite No 3, was new to me, and I really enjoyed its light and sunny quality. It did not have the scope or power of his symphonies, but it was delicately crafted, with wonderful melodies and themes.
After the intermission, the implacable fanfare started his Symphony No. 4 and gave way to its powerful currents interspersed with moments of bleakness and melancholy. I’ve always had a soft spot for the pizzicato in the third movement, so catchy with its obstinate agility, and I particularly relished these few minutes, but the whole performance was praise-worthy, intense and focused. Tchaikovsky confided that the piece was about Fate, “that tragic power which prevents the yearning for happiness from reaching its goal.” He certainly managed to carry his point across while writing the score, and Lorin Maazel certainly managed to carry the point across while conducting his musicians. Even if, or maybe because, this symphony is probably familiar territory for all parties involved, it was a brilliant performance and brought down the almost full-capacity house.
The maestro must have had a good time as well because he came back for two encores that were pieces from Tchaikovsky’s ballet oeuvre, and which the orchestra played with the same gusto. As far as I’m concerned, one can never get too much Tchaikovsky, and this afternoon performance was a real treat to the ears and a wonderful way to start my vacation.