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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
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.
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.
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.
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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