Selby and Richard McRae Foundation RUSSIAN FLAIR

7:30 PM, Saturday, January 26, 2019
Thalia Mara Hall


Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture and Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana make way for a resounding finish:  2013 Van Cliburn winner Vadym Kholodenko on Prokofiev’s riveting third piano concerto. 

Cash bar in the lobby prior to the concert and at intermission.

Pre-concert lecture by Dr. Timothy Coker on the Mezzanine, 6:45-7:15p


Concert generously sponsored by:

Vadym Kholodenko's appearance made possible by:


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Suite No. 4 in G Major, Op. 61 “Mozartiana”

Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26 
          Vadym Kholodenko, piano

NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Russian Easter Overture

Tonight’s all-Russian concert opens with a concert overture dedicated to two giants of Russian music, Modeste Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin. “The Great Russian Easter Overture” stands with Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnol as the last of three orchestral showpieces Rimsky-Korsakov premiered in St. Petersburg in 1888. Although the musical material comes exclusively from Russian Orthodox canticles, Rimsky-Korsakov’s goal was to express in music a sense of “the legendary and heathen aspects of the holiday,” harkening back to pagan rituals. In any case, the opening text in the score, “Let God arise; let his enemies be scattered,” is followed by a quotation from the Gospel of Mark, which tells the story of Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus’ body with spices, returning with others to find his tomb empty and seeing a man clothed in white, who tells them Jesus has risen. The sound of trumpets and full brass indicate the Resurrexit, Jesus’ resurrection. Rimsky-Korsakov, himself a non-believer, hoped to re-create his childhood memories of the Easter service, explaining, “In order to appreciate my overture even to the slightest degree, it is essential that the listener should have at least once in his life attended an Easter Morning Service, and this not in a domestic chapel, but in a cathedral crowded with people from all walks of life and with several priests taking part.”

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY: Suite No. 4 in C Major, Op. 61 (“Mozartiana”)

We might have called this concert “The St. Petersburg Connection,” for the connection all three composers have to that great city. Tchaikovsky was sent to St. Petersburg at age ten to begin his preparations for the civil service at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence. By age nineteen, he was working at the Ministry of Justice. (After three years he decided to begin music study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, in its inaugural class.)


In 1887, Tchaikovsky joined the celebration of the centennial of Mozart’s Don Giovanni by composing four short movements constituting a “suite”—in essence, an orchestration of works by Mozart for other performance mediums, from the distance of a century. The first movement (Eine kleine Gigue), is based on Mozart’s Gigue, K. 574. A large contingent of strings bounces around in Romanticism’s version of Classical texture—no orchestra would have been this large in Mozart’s day. The second, a lovely Menuet, is Mozart’s Minuet in D, K. 355 for piano. The third (Preghiria, or “Prayer”), a lush orchestration of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, is two degrees of separation from Mozart, based on Franz Liszt’s piano transcription of the choral work. Finally, the fourth movement is Mozart’s K. 455 set of variations on a theme by Gluck, from the opera La recontre imprévue, ou Les pélerins de la Mecque (“The Unexpected Encounter, or The Pilgrims to Mecca”). George Balanchine choreographed “Mozartiana” for the New York City Ballet’s Tchaikovsky Festival in 1981.

SERGEI PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26

In February 1917, Czar Nicholas II was overthrown and Old Russia was no more. Among those celebrating in the streets of St. Petersburg was the 26-year-old Sergei Prokofiev. After the October Revolution that same year, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed. It wasn’t long before Prokofiev decided he might want to undertake a concert tour abroad, to wait for things to settle down. His friend, Soviet Minister of Culture Anatoly Lunacharsky, told him, “…if you want to go to America, I will not stand in your way.” Lunacharsky arranged for a foreign passport and documents, based on Prokofiev’s application, for “artistic business and for reasons of my health.” Thinking he would be gone for a short time, Prokofiev left with only a handful of scores and few belongings. (He was not to return until 1936.) Eighteen days on the Trans-Siberian Railway got him to Vladivostok, where he crossed over into Japan. Books on contemporary European music had already appeared in Japanese, and the Japanese were very much aware of Prokofiev, so he presented concerts in Yokohama and in Tokyo at the Imperial Theatre. Then, it was on to San Francisco by ship, where he was detained by the Americans (who had no idea who he was), and kept on Treasure Island for three days under suspicion of being a Bolshevik spy. Low on money, he managed to board a train to New York only after a total stranger lent him $300. In New York, he gave a successful concert in Aeolian Hall. Prokofiev, age twenty-seven, quickly became a sensation. “Of his instant success there can be no doubt. Whether he will last—Ah! New music for new ears. Serge Prokofiev is very startling.” New York Times critic Richard Aldrich wrote, “His fingers are steel, his wrists steel, his biceps and triceps steel, his scapula steel. He is a tonal steel thrust. He has speed, surely, but a narrow gamut of dynamics, all crash or whisperings.” That year unleashed in the young Prokofiev a torrent of creative activity, which included the Classical Symphony, the opera The Love for Three Oranges, his Violin Concerto No. 1, and a few sketches for what was to be his Third Piano Concerto. He finished the concerto in Paris during the summer of 1921. Probably surprising to most in this audience, Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto was premiered not in the Soviet Union, but in Chicago, Illinois—because of a connection Prokofiev had made years earlier back in St. Petersburg. Cyrus McCormick, president of International Harvester, had been there to sell tractors to the young Soviet government. And McCormick liked contemporary music, particularly Prokofiev’s. “Look me up if you’re ever in Chicago. Just send me a telegram.” It was with McCormick’s help that a performance was arranged with Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony on Dec. 16, 1921, with Prokofiev at the piano. The Third Concerto (the most popular of his five piano concertos) has long been a staple of international piano competitions, for its tests of fiendish difficulty and expressive opportunities. Despite its apparent “modernism,” today we can hear in it an extension of Romanticism, bringing Liszt-inspired virtuosity into the twentieth century. Prokofiev, a master pianist himself, took that virtuosity to a new level, with treacherous leaps and knuckle-breaking passages, crunchy with dissonance and powerful emotions.

Concert Calendar

January 2019
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