he year 2015 marks Tchaikovsky’s dodransbicentennial, a fancy way of saying it’s the 175th anniversary of his birth. Vladimir Putin’s government is sponsoring commemorative concerts; Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony anchored a Tchaikovsky Festival that consumed the entire month of February; and the Artemis Quartet honored him in its recent UMS performance at Rackham. Your next opportunity to connect with this composer will be May 14, when in the relaxed and intimate atmosphere of the Kerrytown Concert House three internationally celebrated virtuosi will perform Tchaikovsky’s lengthiest chamber opus along with two landmarks of the twentieth-century Russian repertoire.
In 1920, while Prokofiev was in Chicago and Los Angeles, he wrote a set of Songs Without Words for female voice and piano, which are challenging for any singer to navigate and pleasantly puzzling to the ear. In 1925 these were rearranged as Five Melodies for violin and piano. According to the composer, the work’s ethereal qualities may be attributed in part to his impressions of the Pacific Ocean as it gradually engulfed the setting sun. Prokofiev’s Five Melodies feel like Slavic cousins of Debussy’s late cello and violin sonatas and are among his most bewitchingly beautiful chamber works. At KCH, they will be interpreted by pianist Christopher Harding and violinist Aaron Berofsky.
Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne was derived from the score of Pulcinella, a modernist take on sixteenth-century Italian comedic theater, staged in 1920 by the Ballet Russes with costumes and mise-en-scene by Pablo Picasso. Stravinsky, regarded at the time as an uncompromising iconoclast with a predilection for dissonance, based his musical collaborations with choreographer Leonide Massine on fragments and rediscovered works by various early eighteenth-century Italian composers. According to musicologists Jeremy Noble and Jonathan Cross, Stravinsky used the Baroque relics as a trampoline for his own invention, fracturing and reassembling the early music so that it transcended itself. For a convivial duet reduction of the suite, Harding will be paired with cellist Yeonjin Kim.
Stravinsky characterized Tchaikovsky’s music as “profoundly Russian,” and Prokofiev held him in great esteem. Tchaikovsky’s only piano trio is dedicated to the memory of his friend and mentor Nikolai Rubinstein, a complicated individual who alternately encouraged and bullied the composer while acting as his prime advocate. The Piano Trio’s first movement is a soul-baring elegy punctuated with trademark sea swells of passion that Tchaikovsky biographer David Brown describes as “tumultuous eruptions of self.” The balance of the work, an extended set of eloquent variations on a theme, is a dazzling celebration of life that terminates in a dwindling Chopinesque funeral march. Long subjected to critical broadsides triggered by its emotional extremes and enormous popularity, Tchaikovsky’s still-misunderstood legacy is ripe for reevaluation.