MCO: Letters from Tchaikovsky

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Published: 20th November, 2017

On a beautiful Melbourne Spring day youth came to the fore in more ways than one at this exhilarating performance by the MCO.It was billed as an homage to Tchaikovsky, but the 13 young musicians on stage instead turned it into a statement about the strength of classical music performance in the Internet age and Australia’s role in shaping it. Fourteen actually if you consider that artistic director William Hennessy is very much young at heart.

The concert began with Variations on a theme of Tchaikovsky Op 35a by Anton Arensky (1861-1906). Arensky was a Russian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher who studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and later became Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint at the Moscow Conservatory. It was here that he came in contact with Tchaikovsky who gave him considerable encouragement. The Variations for Strings, an homage to Tchaikovsky, are among his best-known works. Following the statement of the theme there are seven variations and a coda. This was a confident beginning by the orchestra producing a lush sound.

This was followed by a performance of Shostakovich’s Three Fantastic Dances Op 5, arranged for string orchestra by Australian Keith Crellin, Artistic Director of the Adelaide Youth Orchestra. This is one of Shostakovich’s earliest works, written at a time no doubt when the pressures on him were not as great. It’s a quirky piece and the orchestra enjoyed its challenges.

Youth again came to the fore in Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher Op 42 (arr by Nicholas Buc for violin and string orchestra). The MCO has long encouraged its members to perform as soloists, and today it was violinist Shane Chen’s turn. Not that Shane is a stranger at the front of the stage. His performances have been highly praised by audiences and critics. He has performed as soloist with the Adelaide and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Victoria. He is also well-known for his role as the former leading violin of the Flinders Quarter from 2015 to 2017.

In his hands was a Violin made in Cremona, Italy, in 2015, by Valerio Ferron, who is forging an international reputation as a maker of antiqued instruments. Like a young foal, a 2-year old violin may be thought skittish and temperamental, but in the hands of its new trainer it exhibited its full potential. Performed with expressive enjoyment the work came to life.

After a whimsical presentation of Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young Op 39, arranged for string orchestra by Rostislav Dubinsky, came the afternoon’s major work, the Serenade for Strings Op 48, by Tchaikovsky. This is a work which has introduced many young musicians to serious classical work, mainly through school orchestras. It will be familiar to all parents who have sat through end of year school concerts. So it was perhaps fitting that in the hands of this young ensemble it could be seen to have taken its journey to maturity.

This polished and disciplined performance, and in fact the entire concert, underscored the depth of musical talent that is alive and flourishing in Australia today.

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra’s performance of “Letters from Tchaikovsky” was at the Melbourne Recital Centre, on  Sunday, November 19,2017. It was reviewed by Cyril Jones.