Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky Listeners' Diary - 18 February 2007
Two Radio 3 listeners are keeping an online diary throughout The Tchaikovsky Experience.
A final summing up from me. Mixed feelings here, I have to admit, and I do share many of my colleague Paul's views on the week as a whole. Yes, sometimes there were moments when my brain felt like it was going to explode with so much musical input, yet I couldn't switch off because I wanted to feel I'd savoured what was on offer. But on the other hand it was such a whirlwind journey of exploration that I couldn't help but be swept joyfully along with the exhilarating excitement of a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride. I'd not expected to find so much Tchaikovsky which was totally unfamiliar to me, nor was I ready to fully assimilate and begin to comprehend the sheer variety of Stravinsky's musical styles in such a short period of time. Frequently I wanted to stop the clock, step back from the schedule, consider the music (particularly Stravinsky's) in a wider context and take more time to try and appreciate it at a deeper level. But that's something I hope to do with certain new discoveries over the coming months. At heart I am sad that the week has ended, by the time Friday came around, I felt I'd opened some fascinating musical doors and I was hungry for more before they tantalisingly slammed shut in front of me. As always it is such a shame that Listen Again only lasts for 7 days.
I believe that I'm someone who prefers to concentrate on one particular aspect at a time and really dig deep for information so this format works well for me, I really loathe the 2 minute sound-bite - that's simply so unsatisfactory - which is why I stick with BBC Radio 3. It was great to be able to spend a few hours immersing myself in Stravinsky's rarely heard choral works, or comparing and contrasting two of the finest violin concerti in the literature for the instrument. Basking in the inimitable Russian orchestral sound was a highlight of my Tchaikovsky listening. Most especially it was gratifying to use the excellent resources of the Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky Experience web-site as a basis for initial and further research and I sincerely hope it will remain accessible for a while to come. As a listener there was a huge amount of exceedingly fertile musical ground to harvest. At times some of the most enticing fruit seemed just out of reach, but with the invaluable help of Listen Again, I'm confident that I got what I wanted out of the week. I'm still doing so as I type this, listening to some wonderfully evocative Tchaikovsky songs with Joan Rodgers.
Do I think this kind of saturation coverage concept works? Yes, absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt. In this case having 2 composers to contrast and compare was a real masterstroke. Tchaikovsky alone would have been too much, Stravinsky alone would have alienated many less experienced listeners but together - it was like a master chocolatier at work combining sweetness and tartness to best effect. No-one is expected or forced to listen to everything, but to have all this music there, available, in a single week is an amazing achievement no matter what the nay-sayers will have one believe. I will happily admit that there were a couple of late nights/early mornings where I simply had to switch off and go to bed because the notes were swimming aimlessly around my head. But come the next day, I was up early rushing off to Listen Again to catch up, my musical energy buzzing with inquisitiveness and once more focussed on that day's upcoming highlights.
I can relate strongly to Paul's listening experience with the 'Liturgy of St John Chrysostum' in my similar encounter with Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto performed by Heifetz. It was still dark, I had the lights out, sat in my living room with the duvet bundled around me and listened to this timeless interpretation of this timeless work as the burnished glimmering dawn crept stealthily into the room.
From the sublime to the ridiculous - it was a shame that we had to end with a rather accident prone 1812 Overture - though the accompanying video is rather well. Perhaps it might have been best to keep things simple and have large screen monitors for the choruses to follow rather than additional conductors - definitely a case of too many maestri spoil the froth. Had I been in charge of this enterprise, I would have offered 1812 as a free download to launch the Experience and performed 'Rite of Spring' with accompanying vivid visual video imagery as the grand concert highlight to the week. As a musician myself I have to be controversial and say I don't go along with all the record company wailing in response to the Beethoven symphonies downloads and the supposed damage that they could allegedly have done to their commercial interests. As long as the musicians involved are fairly compensated for their work and composer copyright is not infringed, I believe we've got to move with the times. There is no better way of providing an entry door to classical music to a new audience than with the free 'taster' download.
So what were my highlights of the week? I think I'll restrict myself in mentioning 2 - one by each composer: For Stravinsky it would be 'Le Roi des étoiles'. This was a completely new work for me and its mystical, other-worldly quality, the complexity yet directness of his writing was immensely moving, appealing and musically challenging all at the same time. I'm keen to get the score now and spend a little more time and effort on this intriguing music. Well, I did say I was going to restrict myself to one work by each composer - but life is never as simple as that! With Tchaikovsky it has been a dead-heat between Maestro Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic's excellent performance of the Manfred Symphony (their symphony cycle was of a very high quality throughout the week) and that absolutely unbeatable Heifetz recording of the concerto. I love the Manfred to bits and hope that more listeners will have discovered the work through this heartfelt and intense interpretation and no-one who appreciates life-enhancing music-making should be without that recording by Jascha Heifetz.
If I was in charge of planning BBC R3, what would be next in the 'Experience' series? Hmm, difficult question - I like the idea of Ravel and Debussy in combination perhaps, or maybe Richard Strauss, but if I had to choose one composer it would be Edward Elgar... there is simply still so much music to discover and so many misconceived perceptions to correct.
I hope you've enjoyed reading my thoughts as much as I've enjoyed sharing them. Roll on the next 'Experience'.
Tchaikovsky's works on Radio 3
On Radio 3