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IN “OUR GREAT TCHAIKOVSKY”

HERSHEY FELDER  EXCELLED  HIMSELF

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By Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: Hershey Felder Presents

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA –  The sounds of the music  of PYOTR (also spelled PETER) ILYCH TCHAIKOVSKY (l840-1893) still resonate all over the world.  We can listen to them in the masterful orchestration of “The Dance of a Sugar Plum fairy”  in Disney’s movie FANTASIA, in YouTube, or hear an example of his melodious  “Once Upon a Dream,” from his  Sleeping Beauty ballet but adapted as the song, in the voice of Cinderella in  the animated Disney's film. And  we can see it interpreted in classical ballet steps in THE NUTCRACKER ballet. In his music, TCHAIKOVSKY still lives.

What most people ignore about TCHAIKOVSKY the composer, however, is that some of those marvelous melodies, so full of  joy that make us want to abandon our seats in the theatre when we listen to them and join the dancers on the stage, were the product of  the composer’s deep depression. That many of them originated in the mind of a very  unhappy man, a man whose angst must have been so intense, that it needed to be expressed into sounds. So, those symphonies, those Operas, those Concertos and those marvelous Ballets were created by the great TCHAIKOVSKY to express his sadness, his confusion and maybe his shame, because  the leading Russian composer of the l9th Century, had a “secret”  and spend his entire life trying to accept himself as he was.

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And in "OUR GREAT TCHAIKOVSKY," the SAMANTHA F. VOXAKIS, KAREN RACANELLI, and ERIK CARSTENSEN Production of HERSHEY FELDER one man show presented by TheatreWorks, Silicon Valley, FELDER, a virtuoso pianist, playwright and actor, impersonating the composer, tell us about his inner battle, in words and in the language that TCHAIKOVSKY used more often best to convey his feelings: his music.

Talking to the audience from the stage, TCHAIKOVSKY (FELDER) stars revealing short segments of his life, interrupting his narrative with short segments of music. The  piano music may be movements of a long piece or one of TCHAIVKOSKY’s short compositions played on the piano by FELDER alone, or played on the piano and accompanied  by a recorded orchestra. So, little by little, like  the pieces of an intricate  puzzle, the show allows the audience to put together the turmoil in the life of  the most famous composer in Russia, a man whose character was described by his critic as morbid, his personality as hysterical and his music as vulgar, sentimental and pathological.

The show begins with  FELDER entering  the stage as FELDER and announcing to the audience that he has received an invitation to go to Russia to play “OUR GREAT TCHAIKOVSKY” there and he is wondering if he should go. We never learn  if this “invitation”  was a real invitation from Russia, or just part of his  show. After that, FELDER gets into character and start describing TCHAIKOVSKY as “A gentle boy”
 

What he tells us about this boy, is that he manifested a clear interest in music and that because of it  his mother allowed him to start taking piano lessons with a local tutor when he was only five years old. That, sadly, his mother died nine years later, and to ease the emptiness of "losing his angel" he started composing music for the first time. But ILYCH, his father believed that  “music was not for boys but for ladies only” so he sent him 600 miles away from home  to St. Petersburg to the boys Imperial school of Jurisprudence hoping that he would grow up as a man and learn to work in the civil service. "Away from home, we boys were scare," He tell us, "so at night, we all held hands" Whenhe graduated from the school he took up a bureau clerk post with the Ministry of justice. He worked there for four years a became more fascinated with music.

When we meet him again, he is 21 years old  and he is taking music lessons at the newly founded  St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, where he was one of the first students of  composition, learning the art from  ANTON RUBINSTEIN who among other things  taught him to write all the melodies that he “heard in his head”  in order to be able to correct them.

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After  TSCHAIKOVSKY, graduated from the conservatory he began teaching music and start composing.

During the l860 he was composing operas. His first, THE VOYEVODA (based on a play by ALEXANDER OSTROVSKY) which premiered in l869, but most of his operas did not survive. The first to survive intact was THE OPRICHNINIK . Today, the only one  still playing is  EUGENE ONEGIN.

But being a master orchestrator, by the year  l868 TCHAIKOVSKY started composing symphonies, concertos and became the master composer of classical  Ballets, compared by many as symphonic works.

As we listen to TCHAIKOVSKY’s  life, FELDER allows us to listen to segments of his music, the language the composer used to convey his feelings. During the show we hear a segment of the Sleeping Beauty Ballet (played at the piano by FELDER). Another memorable moment is FELDER's piano interpretation of different  pieces of  THE NUTCRAKER Suite ballet. The most beautiful scene in this play, however, is the one that allows the audience to listen to the masterful orchestration  of  The Swam Lake ballet theme, recorded in its full orchestral version, as we watch a large projection of a forest with a couple, reflected in shadows, dancing a pas de deux  projected on the stage. 

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Continuing with his Impersonation of the composer, FELDER tells the audience  about his marriage with ANTONINA MILYVKOVA his student,  (perhaps with the purpose to stop the “rumors”  about his sexual preferences)  How their marriage was a catastrophe, and how it caused him to have a nerve brake down. He also talks about  his “platonic” relationship with NADEZHDA VON MECK the widow of a railroad magnate a woman who understood him, and  supported him as his Patroness  for 13 years  with the condition that they never meet in person. (They communicated by letters only) he explains that her excuse was that if she ever met him, he no longer will be her “ideal man” But heir platonic relationship worked well for the composer. He was able to quit his job, travel all over Europe and rural Russia, and focus on his composition.  

In l880, NIKOLAI RUBINSTEIN suggested that TCHAIKOVSKY composed a great commemorative piece for the 25th Anniversary of the coronation of ALEXANDER II. He wrote the 1812 Overture, which is well known for the use of cannons in the score. RUBINSTEIN hated it. His mean words hurt the sensitivity of the composer who became melancholic, in spite that  by them his music was well known around the world he was rich, famous and so respected in America, that he was invited to direct the orchestra at the opening of Carnegie Hall in New York.

TCHAIKOWSKY died in St. Petersburg on November 6 l893. His death was officially declared as cholera but some of his biographers believed he commit suicide. As of today, nobody really knows the cause.

At the beginning of the show FELDER asked the audience if he should bring to Russia his one man show. We think he should. As a virtuoso pianist, he can interpret TCHAIKOVSKY's music like few other pianist could, and in the play he wrote and in his impersonation of the the Russian composer, he managed to present to the audience the man's soul, with dignity. In "OUR GREAT TCHAIKOWSKY", HERSHEY FELDER excelled himself.

OUR GREAT TCHAIKOWSKY will be shown at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA until February 11, 2018. For information or to order tickets call (650) 463-1960 or go online to TheatreWorks.org.

www.act-sf.org/