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The Spring Concert 2020

Saturday 28 March 2020
United Reformed Church,
Southernhay, Exeter

The Spring Concert 2020

Marche Slave - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Piano Concerto No 2 - Dmitri Shostakovich (soloist: Giulio Potenza)

Slavonic Dances Op46 Nos 1,2,7 and 8 - Anton Dvorak

Symphony No 5 - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky


Tchaikovsky and Dvorak became good friends after the latter sent a warm letter of admiration to the former following the premiere of Eugene Onegin in Prague. Tchaikovsky would later organise Dvorak's first tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Tchaikovsky's Marche Slave was commissioned by the Slavonic Charity Committee in order to support the army in the war against the Turks. The piece is a compilation of Serbian folk songs and for its climax Tchaikovsky cleverly introduces the hymn 'God Save the Tsar'.

Dvorak's Slavonic Dances Op 46 were published for both piano duet and full orchestra at the same time by Simrock in 1878. The critics' response was stunning, defining the music as having “heavenly naturalness” and calling Dvořák "a real natural talent". Moreover, the public flocked to the music shops and bought the piece in huge quantities. As a result Simrock got suddenly very rich and Dvorak became a musical superstar.

Shostakovich witnessed the metamorphosis from the Tsarism government to the Soviet System. This made his writing ironic, melancholic and often nasty. His music contains many jokes with quotes from other pieces. He even mocked one of Stalin's favourite Georgian folk songs Suliko not in one but two of his pieces…. And got away with it!   His Piano Concerto was a pedagogical piece dedicated to his son Maxim, when he was preparing to enter the Conservatoire. At the premiere on 10th May 1957 Shostakovich complained that the piece had no musical value but the critics loved it and defined the work as having charming simplicity, carefree spirit and lyrical warmth. It has of course a joke included in the last movement: the scales and the thematic material are similar to the loathed studies by Hanon that most pianists had to go through. Shostakovich transforms the boring scales into a masterful movement with flair, irony and a great sense of humour.The soloist for tonight's piano concerto will be Giulio Potenza who has played in recitals at Powderham Castle, which some of you may have attended.

 Into his 5th Symphony Tchaikovsky pours his purest and highest qualities as a composer. He dedicated the work to the ultra conservative teacher Theodor Avé-Lallement. The latter tried to convince Tchaikovsky to settle in Germany so he could overcome his "shortcomings as a composer". Tchaikovsky returned his compliment with this work that has it all. Drama, poetry, sadness, fire, childish bursts of joy and maturity. The piece is perfect in every way and a stunning finale for this concert.

 All the pieces I have chosen for this concert are great favourites of mine. We used to play them many times during my time at El Sistema and they all have a very special place in my memory.

Arturo Serna