Pensacola, Florida
Sunday June 16th 2019


Drawing From Russia’s Deep Well

By Jeremy Morrison

The Pensacola Symphony Orchestra (PSO) performs a concert featuring the music of Russian composers every season. Something about the music’s deep intensity keeps calling the orchestra back.

“Russian composers had a way of capturing the virtuosity of orchestra playing and the incredible intensity of emotion,” explained Peter Rubardt, music director for the symphony. “Laying that emotion all out there is a core element of the Russian style.”

This year, the symphony is performing the works of three Russian composers.

From Sergei Rachmaninov, there is “Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14,” from Alexander Glazunov, “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 82” and, finally, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, Pathetique.”

It will be the first time in many years that some of these pieces have graced the Saenger Theatre’s stage. PSO hasn’t played the Tchaikovsky selection since 2001, with Rubardt intentionally taking a break from the piece due to its intense nature.

“All three of the pieces on the program are works that I’m certain our audience will go wild for,” Rubardt said.

Tragedy and Melodies
Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony is something special. At least, Tchaikovsky thought so.

“I myself consider it the best and especially the most open-hearted of my works,” the composer wrote to a friend upon completing the work. “I love it as I have never loved any of my other musical offspring.”

Rubardt agrees with this sentiment.

“Tchaikovsky knew that he had expressed something very real and very deep in his Sixth Symphony,” the director said. “I don’t suppose ‘Tchaikovskian’ is a real word, but if it were, it could have been coined to describe the “Pathétique” Symphony. From first note to last, this is Tchaikovsky at his most intense and passionate, swinging from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.”

Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony was his final work. Within 10 days of the work’s premiere in 1893, the composer died. The official story lists the cause of death as cholera, though there is speculation he committed suicide.

In addition to being considered among his best work, the Sixth Symphony is also among the composer’s darkest works.

“The last movement starts with a drawn-out cry of anguish, a shocking gesture that shatters the exuberance of the preceding movement,” Rubardt said. “What follows is music with a depth and emotion that rises far above every other piece he wrote, which for Tchaikovsky is saying a lot.”

The Rachmaninov piece the orchestra will be performing, “Vocalise,” is a selection from a larger work consisting of 13 other pieces. “Vocalise” was a last-minute add-on written three years after the rest of the collection. It became the most well-known piece of music the composer ever wrote.

“Vocalise’” is melody at its most sublime,” Rubardt said.

The director describes the piece as “one of those melodies that doesn’t end” and “five minutes of pure heaven.” The work, he explained, strives for the experience of the human voice in flight.

“When Rachmaninoff composed ‘Vocalise,’ he was reflecting on the fact that fundamentally, all instrumental music is aspiring to song,” Rubardt said. “The greatest thing that a violin can do is to sing.”

The night’s other work, Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, also relies on melodies. It will be Rubardt’s first time directing this piece.

“Glazunov’s Violin Concerto is not a piece that you hear a lot these days. It’s Russian to the core,” the director said. “Glazunov’s Violin Concerto is a piece that is fiendishly difficult for the soloist. It has the reputation of being one of the hardest pieces that a violinist ever has to do, but what I love about it most are the soaring melodies, particularly in the first movement.”

Performing with the Pensacola Symphony for its Russian Spectacular concert will be violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen. The international performer’s playing has been hailed as “sparkling, sensual and personal,” with a display of “boundless technique and musicianship.” The guest artist will perform on the Glazunov selection.

WHAT: Pensacola Symphony Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Glazunov
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6
WHERE: Pensacola Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: Tickets start at $23

Ticket holders can attend a pre-concert discussion at 6:30 p.m. with Dr. Leonid Yanovskiy, who is concertmaster as well as professor and director of strings and orchestra at the University of West Florida.
Yanovskiy is an acclaimed violinist, violist and conductor. He has performed on the stages of Lincoln Center, Chicago Orchestra and Boston Symphony halls, the Kennedy Center and the Metropolitan Opera.
PSO also offers $5 tickets to their 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon dress rehearsals prior to each performance at the Saenger Theatre.