by Mike Telin
When it comes to the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, conductor Robert Trevino believes the composer’s Fifth is perhaps the most perfect in its construction and musical development. “In a way it’s almost the touchstone for his symphonic canon,” Trevino said during a recent interview. On Saturday, August 5 at 8:00 pm at Blossom Music Center, the Fort Worth, Texas native will make his Cleveland Orchestra debut in a concert featuring Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Behzod Abduraimov as soloist, and the Symphony No. 5.
Trevino, who was named Music Director of the Basque National Orchestra in 2016, said that he sees the symphony as part of a continuum that exists in the composer’s last four symphonies. “I think the Fourth, Fifth, the Manfred, and the Sixth are all dealing with fundamentally the same problem, and finding a different way of solving it,” he said, explaining that beginning with the Fourth Symphony the composer enters into a period of ever-present doom.
“I can’t help but feel that comes from his profound isolation, because he lived in a time when homosexuality was not just frowned upon, it was simply not allowed and I imagine that was very difficult for him. When I read his letters, I can’t help but feel a substantial amount of sympathy and empathy for the man. It’s not that everything is about that in his music. But again, how horrible is it to have to deny one’s self. And I find that a lot of these symphonies are dealing with that issue, more so than the previous ones.”
Trevino, who has held associate conductor positions with the Cincinnati Symphony and the New York City Opera, pointed out that the musical motif that ends the Fourth is the same re-imagined motif that is heard at the beginning of the Fifth. “I think a great deal of the Symphony is about finding resolve and believing it in a heartfelt way — maybe something better is coming. Then you come to the Manfred which is basically about wishing not to exist. Not the wish to die, but the wish to never have been, which is a more dramatic idea altogether. And the Sixth, which is tragic throughout.”
Regarding his interpretation of the Fifth, the conductor said that he has an unconventional approach to the work. “I don’t take any breaks between movements. I find that the piece is constructed in a single musical idea — every movement finishes in a way that is either quasi-inconclusive or is leading into the next. The first ends quietly with low notes in the basses, bassoons, and timpani. In the second movement those chords start from the bottom and blossom into the horn solo. The movement ends with a clarinet solo that fades away to nothing, and the elegance is in the opening of the third movement waltz which ends with chords that proceed directly into the opening of the fourth.”
Trevino said the he sees Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto as a work that reflects the imperial elegance of the Russian empire. “The age of the Czar and people having winter palaces and things like that. My problem with the piece is that I find that many people approach it in an overtly bombastic manner, and for me that is completely wrong. But I’ve performed this concerto with Behzod, and he is a stunning musician.”
Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Bezhod Abduraimov, who will also be making his Cleveland Orchestra debut at Saturday’s concert, picked up his cell phone in Lake Como, Italy. “I’ve played this concerto with Robert and I’m looking forward to doing it again,” the pianist said. “I’m extremely excited to come to Cleveland — I mean this is a legendary orchestra.”
Abduraimov said that the Concerto is his “absolute favorite,” because of the work’s drama, beautiful melodies, and long phrases. “Tchaikovsky was a genius at writing melody. I love the way the first movement all builds up to the cadenza. The simplicity of the second movement reminds me of a shepherd’s tune. And the final motif in the third could be a Russian anthem.”
The pianist said that he prefers to take a “simple” approach to the work. “You don’t have to create anything extra. You just follow what is written and try to be as lyrical and musical as you can and not be overwhelmed by the virtuosity of the piece.”
Abduraimov pointed out the Concerto’s many scales are difficult primarily because of the way they are written. “The key of b-flat minor sounds beautiful, but it is awkward. And since Tchaikovsky didn’t really play the piano, it’s not very pianistic like Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev. But that doesn’t matter because most important is the music.”
The twenty-six-year old began playing the piano at age six and by the time he was eight he knew he wanted to be a musician. “It was after my first public concert — I played Mozart’s Variations in D with the Tashkent Symphony Orchestra. I loved the experience and at that age I didn’t feel the responsibility — I took it seriously, but it was fun.”
Because his mother is a piano teacher, Abduraimov grew up with music in the house. But it was when his teacher played him Van Cliburn’s recording of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto that he said he wanted to play the piece.
“I was so young and like most kids I didn’t like to practice, but I loved music and these massive concertos. When I played the Mozart it felt great — but the orchestration is light. The other students played concertos like Prokofiev 3, Tchaikovsky, and Gershwin and I couldn’t wait until I could play them. But my teachers and my mother kept me in line, because of course learning to play requires a lot of practice and discipline from a young age.”
When it came time to enter conservatory Abduraimov bypassed a full scholarship to Juilliard as well as offers to attend schools in Moscow and London, choosing to study with Stanislav Ioudenitch at Park University in Kansas City.
“I met him here in Lake Como. I knew about Professor Ioudenitch — he’s also from Tashkent — and he invited me to take part in master classes here at the International Piano Academy. I remember that I played a Mephisto Waltz and after I finished he said ‘Well, great, we have material, but we have a lot of work to do.’ I was inspired by everything he said — it was like the discovery of a new world and I felt that he was the right person for me to study with. I also thought that the name of the school would not help me when I was onstage playing a concert — I needed the right teacher and mentor. I don’t want to offend any of the many very fine music schools, I’m just saying that I was very lucky to find the right teacher. And I’ve only had two teachers in my life.”
How does Abduraimov spend his time when he’s not playing the piano? “That rarely happens,” he said laughing. “When I come to Cleveland, that will be the last concert of my 46 days on tour. But right now, I’m in this beautiful place so I took a walk and just enjoyed the nature. But music takes most of my life — it is my life.”
Published on ClevelandClassical.com July 31, 2017.
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