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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died at the young age of 53 from cholera. Some historians theorize that he contracted the fatal infection by drinking contaminated water on purpose.Suicide can be achieved by easier methods, but a cursory look at Tchaikovsky's life reveals that nothing in his life was easy except for the ability to suffer.But the very unhappily married Russian is regarded as one of the most creative composers of the 19th century, and so many of his works from his ballets to his symphonies are part of the necessary repertoire of any respectable orchestra. Audiences continue to be attracted to his emotional music.That is part of the reason why the Utah Symphony, led by music director and conductor Thierry Fischer, will embark on a two-week-long "mini-festival" celebrating the music of Tchaikovsky that will both showcase two of his most famous symphonies while also featuring a feat rarely attempted: a performance of all three concerti composed by Tchaikovsky by virtuoso guest pianist Louis Lortie in just one night.Fischer said in a phone call from his home of Geneva that after completing season-long cycles of Beethoven and Mendelssohn symphonies, the Utah Symphony orchestra and audience are ready to experience the wide-ranging oeuvre of Tchaikovsky over two intense weekends. Tchaikovsky, to Fischer, is "authentic." He continued: "I think we all love what is authentic. He is the ideal person, with all of the drama in his life, to express dramatically his life through his music." "Tchaikovsky's melodies move us deeply and immediately," said Utah Symphony Vice President of Artistic Planning Toby Tolokan, who programmed this season with Fischer. "Shostakovich wrote, 'Tchaikovsky's music is one of the cornerstones of Russian musical culture and world music … a creative and technical encyclopedia to which every Russian composer has reference in the course of his own work.'"The Utah Symphony organization is so excited about this mini-festival which Fischer would like to continue with other composers in the future that the debut of the orchestra's new, $150,000 Steinway Concert Grand Piano will come during Lortie's ambitious undertaking of tackling all three concerti the weekend of April 19 and 20.The new piano is much-anticipated. "From what I hear, it's quite a beast," Fischer said.The mini-festival will commence on Friday, April 12 with Tchaikovsky's fifth and sixth ("Pathétique") symphonies.The fifth symphony is pre-occupied with looming fate, though scholars argue about whether the composer was using his own cursed life as inspiration. The work has been compared to Beethoven's fifth symphony in its subject matter as well as its construction. After its second performance, Tchaikovsky wrote, "I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure," though it has become one of his most popular works for modern-day symphony orchestras.Tchaikovsky's sixth symphony is the last one he wrote, and is better known as "Pathétique." It is not translated into English as meaning "pathetic," but instead was meant to convey an emotional even at times rousing theme. The fourth movement is famously thought to be the composer's mediation on death. The composer led the first performance nine days before his death, and the second was at his memorial service.Those two symphonies are accompanied by a fascinating programming decision: the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg's choral works "Friede auf Erden" and "My Horses Ain't Hungry." The father of modern atonality in classical music seems to be an odd choice, but there is a method to the Utah Symphony's madness.To Fischer, the counter-programming will allow audiences to deepen their appreciation for Tchaikovksy's craftsmanship. "I love contrasts," Fischer said. "Contrasts help the audience listen better." He then liked Schoenberg's pieces to be one part of a meal, such as an appetizer or dessert. Someone eating a meal doesn't want a steak for both the main course and dessert; the dessert and appetizers are meant to amplify the dining experience using different elements."Arnold Schoenberg's world adds a different 'musical spice' and Thierry feels strongly that programming contrasting works is important artistically," Tolokan said.The weekend of April 12 is simply an introduction to one of this season's most-anticipated concerts: Lortie's performance of the three concerti on April 19 and April 20..Principal Symphony Keyboard at the Utah Symphony, Jason Hardink, is able to appreciate the difficulty of what Lortie is attempting. "I've done some ridiculous projects, but nothing this wild," Hardink said. Not many pianists in the world can do what Lortie can do, he said."It's kind of a marathon for a concert pianist," said Melia Tourangeau, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera president and chief executive.The three concerti are very different from one another, amounting to a roller-coaster of emotions. "Tchaikovsky's determination and confidence in his skills were clearly demonstrated when his first piano concerto was strongly criticized by Moscow Conservatory Director Nikolai Rubinstein," Tolokan said. "Tchaikovsky replied, 'I will not change a single note.' Tchaikovsky's second piano concerto features the very unusual, imaginative solos for violin and cello in the gorgeous second movement. The single-movement third piano concerto illustrates Tchaikovsky's genius in adapting music from his abandoned E-flat symphony."To Fischer, the three concerti are, simply, "fantastic music." He half-joked that his long-time friend Lortie is "absolutely mad" for trying, and in past concerts, achieving, the feat.The French-Canadian pianist is known for his interpretation of Ravel, Chopin and Beethoven, but several years ago he was asked by a Polish conductor what he would like perform at an upcoming concert in Warsaw, Lortie said in a phone interview. "I had played all of those [concerti] separately," Lortie, 53, said. So to challenge himself, he said he would perform all three Tchaikovsky pieces in one night, to the Polish conductor's shock.And he did it.Soloing for nearly two hours takes not only incredibly focused concentration but "sheer physical power" to play the trio, Lortie said. Both are needed because of the "very emotional music" that is "passionate, almost aggressive" as well as being "not very subtle." For the audience, he believes they will be enthralled by the intensity. "It is very easy to connect with Tchaikovsky," Lortie said.The emotional connection between audiences and the music of Tchaikovsky is why symphony orchestras regularly schedule the Russian composer's work, Tourangeau said. The first recording she ever heard, she said, was Tchaikovsky's suite for the ballet "Nutcracker." The same is true for former Provo hip-hop violinist and YouTube sensation Lindsey Stirling, who told The Tribune that she first gained an appreciation for classical music by listening to Tchaikovsky records her parents played to her as a toddler.Even a child can appreciate the melodies and sentiment that he poured into that ballet score why else do ballet companies schedule round-the-clock performances of "The Nutcracker" during the holidays? It can't be because of the creepy Mouse King.After this mini-festival, Utahns don't have to wait until "The Nutcracker" arrives before Christmas to hear the mad Russian.On June 29, the 10th anniversary Deer Valley Music Festival with the Utah Symphony begins the season with the 1812 Overture, written by Tchaikovsky to memorialize Russia's repelling of Napoleon's invading Grande Armée in 1812. Somehow, over the years, the 1812 Overture has been adopted by Americans to celebrate the Fourth of July, complete with cannon fire.It's easy to be emotional when that kind of artillery is involved.
From Tchaikovsky to SchoenbergWeekend 1 • The Utah Symphony kicks off the festival with a performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6 (Pathétique). Schoenberg's choral works "Friede auf Erden" and "My Horses Ain't Hungry," also on the program.When • Friday and Saturday, April 12-13, at 8 p.m.; pre-concert discussion at 7 p.m. features conductor Thierry Fischer and vice president of artistic planning Toby Tolokan.Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South TempleTickets • $18 to $53 in advance; price increase $5 day of performance; 801-355-2787, utahsymphony.org or at the box office.Weekend 2 • The series continues with Tchaikovsky's three Piano Concertos featuring guest pianist Louis Lortie. Schoenberg's imaginary film score "Begleitungsmusic zu einer Lichtspielscene" also is on the program.When • Friday and Saturday, April 19-20, at 8 p.m.; pre-concert discussion at 7 p.m. features conductor Thierry Fischer and vice president of artistic planning Toby Tolokan.When • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South TempleTickets • $18 to $53 in advance; price increase $5 day of performance; 801-355-2787, utahsymphony.org or at the box office.