There is only one word needed to describe Russian orchestrations: excitement. The Pensacola Symphony Orchestra will be performing three Russian masterpieces to showcase the technicality, physicality and excitement that Russian composers bring to their pieces.
“It’s an incredibly attractive program,” music director Peter Rubardt said. “There is something about Russian Composers and Russian music that just fits so well with an orchestra.”
The orchestra will perform works by Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, including two popular Russian symphonies.
“The opening piece for the program is extremely well known for anyone that grew up watching Disney’s ‘Fantasia,’” Rubardt said. “We will be playing ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Mussorgsky. A wonderful, very colorful piece that describes iconic rituals that take place. It’s sort of creepy music, sort of scary music, but a lot of high, fast and loud playing that is really a lot of fun. And it’s an extremely famous piece.”
The orchestra will also be performing one of the most beloved of all concertos, “Piano Concerto” by Tchaikovsky.
“Tchaikovsky is a very famous composer,” Rubardt said, “but one of things that makes him so exciting is watching instrumentalist exercising the incredible technique you need to play Tchaikovsky. And no piece shows that off more than ‘Piano Concerto.’ The Tchaikovsky is somewhat of a special piece.”
To finish the program, PSO will perform a piece that they haven’t performed for at least 16 years, “Symphonic Dances” by Rachmaninoff.
“Rachmaninoff is a composer that we associate with the great, big piano concertos,” Rubardt said. “He wrote two masterpieces for orchestras. The piece we are playing is the last orchestral piece that he wrote. ‘Symphonic Dances’ is a very challenging, bold and original concept of a piece. It is colorful playing for the orchestra and has a big saxophone solo in it and big percussion solos. It is a very exciting piece to close the concert.”
And that is what this concert is all about: excitement. It’s this excitement that is not only showcased in these three works but in most Russian orchestrations.
“Composers figure out how to combine a sense of melody, with a sense harmony, with a sense of orchestration and get all those elements to work together to create excitement,” Rubardt said. “And that’s not to say that other nationality’s music is not exciting—it’s also exciting—but Russians somehow have a formula for cranking up the octane level in music that surpasses everyone else’s.”
On top of the excitement of the pieces, Rubardt says that there are three elements that make these pieces uniquely Russian.
“First of all, the style of orchestration is unique. Different nationalities developed different school of orchestration. Russian orchestration defined the type of orchestration where all the strings would play one thing while all the brass played an accompaniment figure while all the woodwinds play a different accompaniment figure. It’s a fundamentally different approach to dividing the orchestra.”
The second thing that sets Russian orchestrations apart is the richness of harmony. “It’s a certain kind of dramatic color that Russian composers tend to bring that makes their music stand out,” Rubardt said.
“The third,” Rubardt said, “would be the melodic richness of it. The Tchaikovsky has such a great melody. They are melodies that you just can’t stop singing. That’s another trait of Russian Music.”
All of the exhilaration of Russian music takes its toll on the musicians. “I would say one of the challenges that Russian music tends to carry is that it is very athletic music and it is physically exhausting for the musicians to play,” said Rubardt. “You’ll see violinist literately breaking a sweat because it takes a lot of physicality to play Russian music.”
Though Rubardt said it is impossible to choose his favorite of the three pieces, he does have favorite moments.
“There is a favorite passage that I have in the second movement in the Tchaikovsky,” he said. “There is this very beautiful, lyrical melody and it’s quite lovely and then, dropped in the middle of it, is a passage that lasts for about one minute that is very fast and very light, very soft. It is like a gust of wind that blows through and the piano plays incredibly fast music. And at the end of it, the orchestra has this great big cord and the minute it ends, it goes back into the flowing music. I find it quite interesting.”
In the lesser known but still brilliant and spectacular Rachmaninoff piece, his favorite moment is a unique solo: “In the first movement there is an absolutely gorgeous saxophone solo. We don’t normally hear saxophone solos and it’s an explosive, beautiful melody and it’s just a wonderful moment.”
On top of the excitement, physicality, and notoriety of these three pieces, Rubardt believes that there is an energy that is unique to Russian pieces that helps make this concert a fast-paced joy for audiences. “Above all, Russian orchestration has a lot of impact to it. There is a lot of in-your-face, riveting style that comes with Russian orchestration,” Rubardt said.
WHAT: The Pensacola Symphony Orchestra performs three Russian Masterpieces
WHEN: 8:00 p.m. Saturday, April 6
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $20- $82