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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the January 10,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Tchaikovsky — Revisited

It used to be that when an adolescent was smitten

with the sounds of Tchaikovsky, those who considered themselves his

musical betters expected him to outgrow it. Wallowing in those dense,

mawkish sonorities, they reckoned, showed a lack of emotional and

musical maturity understandable in the young. If it were to persist,

the defect would have to be corrected.

Recently, however, revisionist musicology has moved away from the

picture of an anguished Tchaikovsky who vented his unstable, neurotic

tendencies in his music, and has enlarged his shadow on the musical

horizon. In four books published within the last decade,


scholar Alexander Poznansky, drawing on documents newly available,

has reshaped the composer’s image. Poznansky’s Tchaikovsky is an


companion, at peace with his homosexuality, an admirer of Mozart,

and a connoisseur of Western European literature.

Looking at Tchaikovsky musically, Zdenek Macal, artistic director

of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO), goes along with the


"When I was a student in Prague," Macal told music historian

Joseph Horowitz, "Tchaikovsky was played more romantically than

he is today. Very often the music was overblown, and you lost the

sense of line and control. Something like the slow movement of the

Fifth Symphony, with the horn solo, was like taking a hot bath. I

now come to Tchaikovsky conscious of the intellectual control of the

20th century. Basically what I am doing now is letting the music play

itself — of course with engagement and energy — and this


With Macal intently leading, the NJSO celebrates Tchaikovsky for three

successive weeks in its annual January festival. Surrounding the 12

central orchestral concerts with soloists are 17 ancillary events

that explore the composer’s reach in related areas. Five events take

place in the U. S. 1 area. On Saturday, January 13 at 8 p.m. Macal

conducts a concert at Trenton’s War Memorial with cello soloist Daniel

Lee. It is preceded by a Festival Prelude at 6:45 p.m., which includes

excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s incidental music to Hamlet and the


of the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival.

On Friday, January 19, at 8 p.m., the Russian Chamber Chorus of New

York, Nikolai Kachanov, directing, sings "The Liturgy of St. John

Chrysostom" in Richardson Auditorium. On Thursday, January 25,

at 8 p.m., Macal conducts a concert at New Brunswick’s State Theater

starring pianist Gerhard Oppitz, soprano Sally Wolf, and tenor John

Daniecki. The Festival Prelude at 6:45 p.m. includes Goethe settings

by Tchaikovsky and Schubert.

The Tchaikovsky festival is the third full-blown NJSO January


following a Wagner festival in 1999 and a Rachmaninoff festival in

2000. Selection of the festival composer and the core orchestral


is the bailiwick of NJSO music director Macal. Joseph Horowitz, NJSO

festivals consultant and humanities coordinator, is responsible for

ancillary events. The festival format, as the NJSO cloaks it, is


an outgrowth of Horowitz’s deeply-held belief that conventional


programming is obsolete.

Interviewed from his New York home by telephone, Horowitz, author

of five books about music in America, says, "Audiences are hungry

for intellectual engagement not ordinarily afforded by concerts with

standard formats. The Festival Preludes are not just pre-festival

chats; they are integral to the program, and a very carefully crafted

part of the program. The winter festival is part of a much larger

mission which is timely and necessary. I have constantly reiterated

in my books that classical music in the 20th century got stuck in

a deep rut."

Horowitz says orchestras in the 20th century made the

mistake of using the same template even as it became outmoded by


radio, and other new developments. "The conditions that made


matter in the 19th century no longer exist," he says. "In

the 19th century there was a contemporary repertoire that people were

eager to hear. The music of Brahms, Dvorak, and Richard Strauss was

new. The opportunity to hear an orchestra in a live performance was

a special opportunity."

America led the way to what has now become an outmoded tradition,

Horowitz believes. "The first full time permanent orchestra in

the United States, if not the world," he says, "was the Boston

Symphony, established in 1881 by Henry Higginson. It was widely


But changing conditions after World War I didn’t have an impact on

the institution. Concerts became routinized and anachronistic. Now

is the time for orchestras to innovate and to expand their mission,

to discover new ways to present music and to interact with


Horowitz has persuaded a number of orchestras in the country to adopt

his new view of their mission.

The NJSO, with two pre-Horowitz winter festivals (Beethoven and


under its belt, was already in tune with his ideas before Horowitz

arrived. Now a member of the family, he considers the orchestra, with

its relatively small season, an exemplary organization for putting

his notions to work. "Paradoxically, it’s to the orchestra’s


that it doesn’t have to do 52 weeks of concerts," he says.


creates an opportunity to do something more than might be the case

elsewhere. With a 52-week season an orchestra is overtaxed, and just

grinds out the concerts it is required to present. Orchestras were

never meant to give concerts every week. For more than a half century

the New York Philharmonic gave no more than 12 concerts a year. That

may be too few. But now there are too many concerts. The problem all

over the country is having to produce and market concerts that are

not really needed, and for which an audience has to be fabricated

in order to fulfill contractual requirements." The NJSO needed

little prodding to give Horowitz a hold on the reins for the winter


NJSO’s Brian Skwirut, assistant director of communications, cites

three reasons for the winter festival’s high profile. "The first

is artistic," he says. "Diving into one composer under Macal

gives the orchestra a chance to be brilliant. He has a certain feel

about a composer. Musical details can be worked out once and applied

to many pieces. With diverse composers there are a lot of details

that take a lot of rehearsal time."

Skwirut cites national prominence for the NJSO as another ground for

the festivals. He points out that the American Symphony Orchestra

League has commended the NJSO as a national leader in presenting


and has invited it to give seminars and workshops for the benefit

of other orchestras. Horowitz comments, "The New Jersey Symphony

Orchestra is ideally suited for a leadership role thanks to the


of its own administrative and artistic leadership under Macal and

[executive director Lawrence] Tamburri. Everything is in place.


a strong board. Orchestra morale is exceptionally high. There’s a

sound financial base and a solid subscription base."

Finally, Skwirut points to the bottom line as a justification for

the winter festivals, which have been a financial tonic for the NJSO

after the December holidays when concert attendance normally slumps.

The three weeks of the Rachmaninoff festival in January, 2000, were

the orchestra’s top three weeks in sales and attendance, with


sales mounting to $21,000 per week, he says. In the months with finer

weather, weekly single-ticket sales did not exceed $16,000.

Within the winter festival format innovations are afoot this year.

For the first time a symposium, albeit a non-scholarly one, is


Calling the event "entertaining, as well as instructional,"

Horowitz wishes he could find a name for it that better conveys its

sprightly character. It takes place Saturday, January 27, at 2 p.m.,

in Robeson Hall on the Rutgers Newark campus and includes film clips,

a live performance of the balcony scene from Shakespeare’s "Romeo

and Juliet," and a slide show of 19th-century Russian paintings.

Participants include Princeton University’s Simon Morrison, who is

particularly interested in the Russian choral tradition, and


Caryl Emerson, whose specialty is Slavic languages.

Another innovation is a pilot program at Maplewood’s Columbia High

School to link 60 literature students, many of whom have had no


music exposure at all, to the music festival. Horowitz hopes to expand

the involvement of schools with future festivals.

Born in 1948 in New York City, Horowitz spent his early life in


where his father, now 93, was a hospital administrator. His mother,

now deceased, was a psychiatric social worker. At six he started piano

studies. Occasionally, he performs in public. His most recent


was at the Stresa, Italy, festival last summer, where, substituting

for Alexander Toradze in a spin-off of the NJSO Rachmaninoff festival,

he played the third and fourth hands, the most hemmed-in part, in

a piano piece for six hands.

A Swarthmore honors program graduate, he majored in modern western

history, focusing on American music. "Music is an important part

of my life," Horowitz says. My son says I’m obsessed by music.

It’s both an observation and a complaint."

Horowitz’s son Bernie, 13, is himself engaged with music, if not


by it. He recently played violin in a Beethoven performance by the

orchestra of the Fieldston School. Horowitz is married to Agnes


a publicist for classical musicians. The family includes Maggie, 4,

for whom the three original family members traveled together to China

to adopt her from a rural orphanage when she was 20 months old.

A prolific writer, Horowitz’s books include


with Arrau," "Understanding Toscanini," "The Ivory

Trade: Piano Competitions and the Business of Music," "Wagner

Nights," and "The Post-Classical Predicament: Essays on Music

and Society." Thanks to a senior fellowship in Columbia


National Arts Journalism Program, he is currently writing a book about

music critics in the United States, beginning in the mid-19th century.

"That’s when it gets interesting," he says.

From 1976 to 1980 Horowitz was himself a music critic, covering the

field for the New York Times. He shifted first into writing program

notes, and then into presenting and producing concerts. Asked to


for the evolution, he says, "I didn’t like being music critic.

It was an unpleasant job. I’m always embarrassed when people refer

to me as a music critic. There’s a scene in the movie `Hud’ where

Melvyn Douglas plays the old farmer and Paul Newman is the rebellious

son. The herd has hoof and mouth disease. A federal inspector says

that it has to be destroyed. Melvyn Douglas says, `He’s not a bad

man; he just has a bad job.’ That always resonated with me. Rather

than being a music critic, I wanted to be on other side of


Assiduously, Horowitz has made a place for himself on the other side

of things. That repositioning reaches further than merely freeing

himself from a disagreeable occupation. With his advocacy of a new

model for symphony concerts, Horowitz could have a telling effect

on musical life in America.

— Elaine Strauss

Tchaikovsky Festival , New Jersey Symphony Orchestra,

War Memorial, Trenton, 800-ALLEGRO. Program features cellist Daniel

Lee in "Variations on a Rococo Theme" for cello and orchestra.

Also "Hamlet" and "Symphony No. 4" led by music


by Zdenek Macal. Pre-concert Festival Prelude begins at 6:45 p.m.

with a talk on Tchaikovsky and Shakespeare by Joseph Horowitz. $15

to $61. Saturday, January 13, 8 p.m. Repeated at the State Theater,

New Brunswick, on Sunday, January 14, 3 p.m., with Prelude


at 1:45 p.m.

Tchaikovsky Festival , Richardson Auditorium, Princeton,

800-ALLEGRO. "The Spiritual Tchaikovsky" is celebrated by

the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York, directed by Nikolai Kachanov,

performing the "Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom." $10 & $15.

Friday, January 19, 8 p.m.

Tchaikovsky Festival Screening , New Jersey Symphony

Orchestra, Newark Museum, Newark, 800-ALLEGRO. "The Music


a screening of Ken Russell’s 1971 Tchaikovsky film biography, with

commentary by Horowitz. $25. Wednesday, January 24, 7:30 p.m.

Tchaikovsky Festival , New Jersey Symphony Orchestra,

State Theater, New Brunswick, 800-ALLEGRO. Pianist Gerhard Oppitz

is featured in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with "Romeo

and Juliet Duet," and "Francesca da Rimini." Zdenek Macal

conducts, with soloists Sally Wolf, soprano, and John Daniecki, tenor.

Pre-concert Festival Prelude at 6:45 p.m.: "Tchaikovsky and


with Joseph Horowitz. $15 to $61. Thursday, January 25, 8 p.m.

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