MUSCATINE, Iowa–On Saturday, April 23 the Muscatine Symphony Orchestra takes to the stage at Wesley United Methodist Church to present its fifth and final MasterWorks concert of the 2021-2022 performance season.
MasterWorks IV: “Ah . . .Tchaikovsky” will showcase Quad Cities pianist, Marian Lee, in a performance of the blockbuster Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat, op. 23 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The first measures of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 have assumed an identity all their own, distinct from the remainder of the concerto. Many people recognize the four-note descending horn theme and the iconic crashing chords of the pianist’s first entrance without knowing the work as a whole.
“Tchaikovsky’s melodies are iconic and infectious, making them easily memorable. The majestic opening chords, with the sweeping orchestra melody, is instantly recognizable as one of classical music’s ‘hits.’ The second movement theme could have come out the Nutcracker with its soulful, sweetness interrupted by the playfully skittish middle section, and the last movement’s passionate, rhythmic intensity is head bobbing-ly heroic and fun at the same time,” guest pianist Lee said, sharing her thoughts on Tchaikovsky.
Lee has a close relationship with this concerto, “I had a Fulbright grant to study at the famed Moscow Conservatory, otherwise known as the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, and one of the main works I studied there was the Tchaikovsky piano concerto. So, bringing this work back takes me down memory lane – I remember practicing it while seeing the onion domes of churches and hearing the Russian bells outside my practice room window, and feeling the awe of walking in the hallowed halls where Tchaikovsky taught and Rachmaninoff and Scriabin were students.”
Lee, is currently an assistant professor of Piano at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. She has performed all across the United States as well around the globe.
“When I program symphony concert’s repertoire, I like to see an overall arch to the program. One in which the listener can feel the ebb and flow of not only individual pieces of music, but the concert as a whole,” explains conductor Brian Dollinger.
He exemplifies this ebb and flow with the next work of the concert, the Salut d’amour by Sir Edward Elgar. Elgar was the quintessential underdog, and as such, his masterpieces make us all the more glad he finally achieved his rightful praise. Salut d’Amour was Elgar’s first published work and fittingly so. While Elgar and his future wife Alice were courting, the composer went on holiday in 1888 with an old friend. Alice bid him a happy trip with a poem that she had written called “Love’s Grace.” In short order, Elgar responded with a musical reply dedicated to her and entitled Liebesgruss which eventually was renamed to its current title.
“Coming to the close of a concert season is bittersweet for me. Being able to perform all of the great works through a season is such a thrill and fulfilling process. When it’s over, I feel like I want to do it all over again, but, herein lies the best part, the programming and planning of a totally new concert season happens. What kind of creative and exciting programs can I come up with for next year to make me want to relive it again at the end?” Dollinger continues, “my ultimate goal is to expose as many of our friends and neighbors to live symphonic music as possible. There really is nothing like it. You can watch anything you want online, but to actually be sitting in a concert venue, enveloped in the live sounds of a performance is second to none. I hope we continue to bring in new audience members – young and old alike!”
On the concert, the Symphony will also perform the Symphony in C by Georges Bizet. Bizet was a French composer of the romantic era, best known for his opera “Carmen.” He wrote the Symphony in C at 17 years of age, revealing his talent for melodic invention, thematic handling, and orchestration. It is clearly Mozartian, with all of the virtues of the earlier composer.
This concert season has had many incredible guest artists performing with the Symphony. Each of them has brought a myriad of experiences to our concert stage. April’s guest artist Lee compares solo recital performances with performing on stage with a full symphony: “Performing with a symphony orchestra takes a different kind of preparation than a solo piano recital. In the solo recital, you alone are accountable for every nuance and detail. In the concerto, the orchestra is an intimate partner – you have to know and memorize the orchestra’s part inside and out, not just your own, and there is a wonderful back and forth in this partnership. It’s like chamber music on a much grander scale. And the Tchaikovsky in particular, requires Herculean strength for the pianist to go up against a bigger romantic-sized orchestra.”
The 2022-2023 MasterWorks Season planning is just about complete, and will be announced very soon. Many more great guest artists and symphonic works from all genres are being planned.
The next MSO performance will be their free July 4 concert on the Mississippi Riverfront.
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