By Isabelle Lee

VERIZON WIRELESS AMPHITHEATER, IRVINE – On the night of August 30th, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra (PSO) led by the conductor, Carl St. Clair, performed their Tchaikovsky Spectacular show for their Summer Festival. It marked PSO’s 36th season and St. Clair’s 25th anniversary with the orchestra.
PSO’s opening piece was the Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Although Tchaikovsky was born three years after Alexander Pushkin, the author of Eugene Onegin, he composed an opera based on Pushkin’s literary work detailing Russian life. In Act I, the young Tatiana expressed her love for the sophisticated poet Eugene Onegin, who dismissed her advances politely yet firmly. After many years, Tatiana married another man and lived wealthily in a large estate; Onegin, however, developed feelings for Tatiana and she deflected his actions. Act II was a beautiful waltz with a gorgeous melody that depicted the scene of young Tatiana at her birthday party. By Act III, she became a lady of high standards and much dignity. The polonaise with a stiffer melody and less freedom for rhythm than the waltz portrayed her change of character very appropriately. She finally confessed her love for Onegin after his desperate letters to her, but she remained faithful to her husband and left Onegin bitterly.

The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff was the next piece performed in the program. Requiring an immense level of skilled virtuoso playing from both the guest pianist, Jon Nakamatsu, and the orchestra, this rhapsody contained 24 variations based on a simple theme taken from Paganini’s Capriccio in A Minor. Nakamatsu’s technique awed the audience when the rush of notes tumbled flawlessly off of his light fingers and the keyboard. The variety of a fast-paced introduction and the slower central section gave it characteristics similar to the fast-slow-fast structure of a concerto. Rachmaninoff brought the Christian chant “dies irae”, or “day of rage” into his masterpiece which was heard in variation 7 and 10. The dies irae is seen as Rachmaninoff’s signature in his music.

After a brief intermission, the concert continued without any loss of momentum from its previous performances. The next piece was called Pictures at an Exhibition originally by Modest Mussorgsky; PSO played the full orchestra arrangement composed by Ravel. Pictures was a unique work of art, for it bore no resemblance to the traditional classic structure of its time. The pictures of which it was based on were painted by Viktor Hartmann. Although many paintings were lost in history, the few that survived were displayed through an electronic screen while the orchestra was playing. The repeated theme of the Promenade creates a sensation of walking through the museum art galleries. The most memorable was the music to the painting Ballet of Chicks in Their Shells which was based on the traditional Russian ballet costumes. The Catacombs was a blurry painting of men dressed in black standing in a dimly lit hallway and the orchestra appropriately portrayed its ominous and suspenseful vibe. Pictures ended grandly with The Great Gate of Kiev with its worldly and sophisticated tune.
The last piece of the program was the highlight of the Tchaikovsky Spectacular concert. The 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky was written in celebration of the preservation of Russia’s freedom and independence even when they faced Napoleon’s army. It featured the Huntington Beach Concert Band. The vivid melody and powerful contrasts created by long crescendos created tension within the music. The closing sections portrayed Russia’s victory, and actual canons were fired into the air – sixteen shots in all. Its booming resonance and sudden appearance startled many audience members. Fireworks of numerous colors erupted from the sides of the amphitheater to conclude the concert with a bang.

Pacific Symphony will be performing September 25th – 27th featuring the world famous violinist, Joshua Bell, at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
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