Some people gorge on football after gorging on turkey on Thanksgiving. But for many Kansas Citians, myself included, indulging in a post-Thanksgiving concert by the Kansas City Symphony has become a tradition and the perfect way to usher in the holiday season.
This year, distinguished Israeli conductor Yoav Talmi will lead the Kansas City Symphony in a filling program of Romantic masterpieces, including Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 6 “Pathétique” and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with pianist Andrew Tyson as soloist. Alexander Borodin’s Overture to “Prince Igor” will start off the concert taking place Nov. 24-26 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Michael Stern is very choosy about whom he allows to conduct his beloved band, and he couldn’t have found a more eminent guest conductor than Talmi.
For 13 years, Talmi was artistic director of the Quebec Symphony and is now its conductor emeritus. He’s the former chief conductor of the Hamburg Symphony and former music director of the San Diego Symphony, principal guest conductor of the Munich Philharmonic and is currently the head of the orchestral conducting department at Tel Aviv University. In 2013, he received the Prime Minister’s Prize for composers.
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He’ll have a chance to display his conducting chops in a meaty program featuring the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique.” It’s an interesting pairing of works, given that neither composer was especially fond of the other.
“Although Tchaikovsky could not deny Chopin’s great talent, he disliked the whole atmosphere which stemmed from Chopin’s music,” Talmi said. “Chopin, for his part, hated the Russians who invaded his homeland in 1831 to crush the Polish uprising. Fortunately, this did not prevent his music from becoming very popular in Russia from the 1830s onwards, some 10 years before Tchaikovsky was born.”
Talmi does see similarities between the two composers, however. Both were Slavic nationalists who continued the nationalist wave of Bedřich Smetana, Mikhail Glinka, Antonin Dvorak and Modest Mussorgsky.
Talmi says that Chopin’s two piano concertos are unlike those of his predecessors Beethoven and Mozart in that Chopin’s primary interest was not in creating a dialogue between piano and orchestra, but rather in writing a showpiece for the pianist.
“Most of the time, the orchestra serves as accompaniment to enhance the quasi-improvisational solo playing,” Talmi said. “Chopin uses the full orchestra only in the ‘tuttis,’ those sections where the orchestra introduces the themes or concludes a long piano solo.
“His orchestration is awkward and rather bombastic in comparison to the lyrical and poetic material of the piano, but his weakness in orchestration is forgiven immediately when hearing the stunning beauty of his harmonies, the eloquence of his melodic lines and the brilliant yet elegant virtuosity.”
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 is the last symphony he completed. The composer conducted the first performance himself in October 1893, just nine days before he died. Rimsky-Korsakov asked Tchaikovsky if there was a hidden meaning in his symphony, and Tchaikovsky said there was, but he wouldn’t divulge it.
Musical conspiracy theorists have tried to discover that hidden meaning. Some think it was a suicide note and point out that Tchaikovsky quotes the Russian Orthodox Requiem at the end of the first movement. There is also the “dying of the light” that concludes the symphony instead of a triumphant finale, a radical departure from Tchaikovsky’s other symphonies and any other symphony written up to that time.
“The anguish and torment appear immediately in the slow introduction of the first movement,” Talmi said. “The traditional slow movement is replaced by a unique waltz in 5/4 meter, quite a daring undertaking in that period. The third movement is a brilliant virtuoso march, and the finale opens with a painful outcry that connects us immediately with the despairing mood of the first movement. The suffering and agony prevail throughout, until it is dying slowly to eternal emptiness.”
Whatever hidden meaning Tchaikovsky may have concealed in the symphony, it is undoubtedly one of his most moving works, with an unforgettable, shattering conclusion.
8 p.m. Nov. 24-25 and 2 p.m. Nov. 26. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $30-$90. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.