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Tchaikovsky in Odessa

“I have never experienced anything like this before in my life. They are honouring me here as if I were some great man, almost a person who had saved their Motherland.”

Pyotr Tchaikovsky about Odessa and Odessa’s people

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky arrived at Odessa on the 12th of January 1893. Lev Kupernik, the Head of Odessa Branch of the Russian Imperial Musical Society and Ivan Grekov, entrepreneur of the Odessa City Theatre, invited him to Odessa. The composer agreed to take part in the production of his opera Queen of Spades and conduct two symphonic concerts.

Odessa’s people were looking forward to the maestro’s arrival. “People were fighting to get the tickets for these concerts in spite of the high price the Musical Society had put. The Society had problems with funding and it needed extra money to make ends meet. Interviewers followed Tchaikovsky and rivaled to question him. Tchaikovsky was so polite that he responded in a written form to be exact in his answers,” – Abram Kaufman, a journalist, wrote in his memoirs.

Musicians of the Odessa City Theatre were looking forward to the first rehearsal of the Queen of Spades and were walking there as if they were going to some party. “The orchestra musicians were at their places long before the agreed time… As soon as Pyotr Il’yich appeared on stage the orchestra burst into thunders of applause and “Hurray” screams. The musicians started playing touché and raised the composer up on their hands, to his great amazement. They were swinging him for a long time. All the people present in the theatre stood up, the applause lasted for 15 minutes. Pyotr Il’ych walked to the first row of chairs, sat and making comments followed the rehearsal from there,” – Sergei Levin, an orchestra musician, told.

Nikolai Kuznetsov, an artist from Odessa, was present inside the theatre during the rehearsals. He was making sketches of a composer who was very attentive during the rehearsals and reacted on everything happening on stage very emotionally. Pyotr Il’yich happened to see the sketches and agreed to pose for the portrait on the main staircase of the theatre. The painting by Kuznetsov turned out to become the only portrait of Tchaikovsky made within his lifetime.

The premier of the Queen of Spades took place on the 19th of January 1893. The opera had an enormous success. “Each person in the audience stood up each time when Tchaikovsky walked up on stage for each curtain call. The public was pouring thanks for the music. The composer, touched up to tears, was thankful to the public in his turn,” – the press read.

After the premier Ivan Grekov presented the composer with an opera score in plush cover with two silver plaques. One had an inscription “Queen of Spades“, a silver wreath and an image of a poker queen of spades, other plaque had three poker cards in a semicircle, namely the three of clubs, the seven of diamonds and the ace of spades.

Pyotr Il’yich conducted not two, as it had been previously agreed, but five symphonic concerts in Odessa. Three performances were for charity: to the favour of poor students of the Richelieu gymnasium, orchestra musicians and the Slavic Society. “Thanks to the composer’s kindness even not rich people will have a chance to listen to his music under his own direction.” – the newspaper News from Odessa read.

The programme of concerts was the following: musical fantasy called Storm, Rococo Variations for a cello and orchestra, Andante cantabile from the First Quartet, the suite from the ballet The Nutcracker, the Lament dedicated to Samarin’s memory, waltz from the Serenade for a string orchestra, overture 1812 and art songs.

The orchestra musicians and members of the Odessa Musical Society presented Maestro with a laurel wreath and a conductor’s stick made of ebony with a gold handle and a diamond. An actress Maria Zankovetska on behalf of the Ukrainian Drama Theatre Company gave the composer a wreath with gilded leaves and an inscription that read “The mortal to the immortal”.

 

“I have never been so tired of conducting as it was in Odessa… but I have never been extolled to the skies elsewhere in such a degree“, – Tchaikovsky admitted in his letter to his brother Modest.

Leaving Odessa on the 25th of January 1893 the composer promised to get back in autumn to take part in production of his opera Iolanta. It never happened. Tchaikovsky passed away in less than in a year. “In 1893 we got sad news about Tchaikovsky’s death. It was as if we had been hit by a lightening“, – Sergei Levin remembered.

Odessa mourned sincerely. A number of concerts dedicated to the composer’s memory were held; his music was performed there. The premiere of Iolanta took place shortly after the sad news. “I would like my music to spread, I want it from the bottom of my heart. I wish the number of my music lovers grew so they could get some consolation and support in it.” – Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote. His dream has come true. It has been more than 100 years since the great composer died but his music is immortal. It still sounds; it still inspires and fascinates the listeners.

We have used information from the following books: Odessa City Theatre: 1809-2009 by V.S. Maksimenko, Conductor I.Pribik and Odessa Opera House by S.M. Kogan, Bringing Back to Life a Fairy Tale Theatre by I.S. Voloshchuk.
 


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    December, 2016

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