Dobriy den…(Good day in RU & UA) to you, lovely people. Today, I want to invite you to live with me in the sound and soul of one of my all time favorite artists, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, as well as one of my all time favorite composers, Pyotr the Great, Mr. Tchaikovsky! Next week, my fellow colleagues and I will perform a few masterpieces by Rachmaninoff, but for now you can whet your appetite with Tchaikovsky. And, I do not apologize that it’s not quite a small plate kind of appetizer. It is Russian after all. Russians and Ukrainians alike, like to have “salo” (bacon and not the American kind. It’s almost pure fat, preferably served with raw garlic) for a snack.
Last year, I debuted with NYFOS singing a mostly Tchaikovsky program with the incredible baritone, Alexey Lavrov, who is the next ‘Dmitri Hvorostovsky,’ I think. First of all, when I sing Tchaikovsky’s music, it particularly feels like butter on my vocal cords. Of course Tchaikovsky is going to be one of my favorites for that, but more so because of the unlimited passion and sincerity in his music. I never have to plan or dissect Tchaikovsky’s music too much to understand what he wanted. I enter his vein of music instantly and feel it naturally rather than trying to understand it. Perhaps because we were next door neighbors. And, on top of it all, listening to Dmitri perform anything by Tchaikovsky is like eating a double death by chocolate cake.
As most of you know, we lost Hvorostovsky last year, too soon. It was a great tragedy to the world. He was one in a million who possessed a strong gorgeous pillar of a voice, impeccable artistry, and the most refined natural vocal technique that always served the music. Listening and watching him sing always gives me this thrilling feeling and makes me feel everything he is expressing. Also, every video you watch of him, is an amazing voice lesson. He is an absolute master and complete artist. Every note, every single note is telling a story. In this love song aria, and this recording particularly, “Ja vas lyublu” (“I love you”) from Queen of Spades, Dmitri pours out his heart with such intensity and love. I listen to it over and over and cannot get enough. It’s so special and so sensational. Every note truly shows how much he loves her. He doesn’t let go of any note. Every note, every millisecond of this piece is infused with love, energy and passion. It just takes my breath away. Ah, just heart wrenching. He is so committed and honest. And, one can CLEARLY understand every word with out focusing, too much. Thank you to both Mr. Hvorostovsky and Mr.Tchaikovsky for such a gift.
Again, we are touched by truth because the artist is truthful in the moment to himself, the music, the composer, and to the audience. He doesn’t do anything over the top or cheat us by giving less, he is simply honest. That’s what we desperately desire and here we are totally satisfied.
(I advise you listen to this on good speakers or head phones to experience the full thrill of passion and the sound of his voice.)
To celebrate NYFOS’s 30th Anniversary Season, Song of the Day is featuring some recordings from our archives, along with excerpts from program notes that accompanied them. (If the recording does not appear below in your email, please click on the title above to play the song on our website.)
Снова, как прежде, один (“Again, as before, I am alone”) op. 73, no. 6 (1893)
Music by Tchaikovsky; poem by Ratgauz
Sung by Alexey Lavrov in Pyotr the Great (2017)
Again, as before, I am alone.
Once more I am filled with deep sadness.
A poplar is standing outside the window
Bathed in moonlight.
A poplar is standing outside the window,
Its leaves whispering of something.
The sky is filled with burning stars…
Where, my beloved, are you now?
I cannot describe to you
All that is happening within me…
My friend, please pray to God for me,
As I am praying for you.
From the Program Notes by Steven Blier:
Tchaikovsky’s early death at age 53 was a tragedy—and a mystery. The stated cause was cholera, contracted either through unboiled water (the official version) or sexual contact (a privately rumored story). But there are enough alternate explanations and differing testimonies to fill several books. Several of them lie on my table as I write these words, with analyses that can get unpleasantly graphic. One theory is that the composer chose to end his life because of his overwhelming, impossible love for his nephew, Bob Davidov, to whom he dedicated the Pathétique Symphony. Another is that his suicide was ordered by the Tsar after the composer had seduced the wrong fifteen-year old boy. The most convincing, and the most chilling, is that he acceded to a sentence of suicide handed down by a hastily assembled “court of honor” composed of fellow alumni from his old law school. It seems that a certain Duke Stenbok-Fermor was disturbed by the attentions Tchaikovsky was lavishing on his nephew, and wrote a letter of accusation to the Tsar. Nicolai Jacobi, the man appointed to deliver the letter, decided to give it instead to his colleagues at the School of Jurisprudence, in order to avoid the possibility of scandal and exile for Tchaikovsky. Their grim verdict was that the composer should take his own life. The symptoms of arsenic poisoning are very similar to those of cholera. There is some strong evidence that this is true—stemming from a decades-old confession, passed through several generations, from Nicolai Jacobi’s widow.
We’ll never know the truth absolutely—whether it be cholera, depression, suicide, or decades of cigarettes and alcohol. What I do know is this: Tchaikovsky’s last symphony was his most tragic piece of music, seen at its premiere as a memento mori, a requiem. There is a strange moment in the first movement when a theme emerges in the trombones, bearing no relationship to the music surrounding it. It is a quote from the Russian Orthodox Mass for the Dead: “And may his soul rest with the souls of all the saints.”
From his earliest songs to his final ones, Tchaikovsky returned again and again to the subject of death, often offering comfort to those left behind to mourn. But his last song is his most desolate, a fitting companion to the Pathétique Symphony: “Again, as before, I am alone.” He knew the game was over.
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