Editor’s note: The Galveston Symphony Orchestra’s next concert includes a Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto. Music Director Trond Saeverud talked about the program.
Q. Wow! Soheil Nasseri is coming to Galveston. He’s played the big concert halls, and The New York Times wrote of his “imposing technique and vivid imagination.” The Times critic also said: “Never merely flamboyant or glib, he put the music first without fail, the sign of a genuinely valuable artist, corporate seal of approval or no.” How did he decide to come to Galveston?
A. Yes, Soheil Nasseri is a marvelous performer, and we are extremely fortunate to have him. He and I communicated for a long time, working on ways to make his visit possible and worth his very long travel. The added Friday recital at the Moody Mansion was helpful — and maybe he wanted to play at The Grand after I described its beauty and inspiring ambience. I am happy that he accepted and looking very much forward to this cooperation
Q. Nasseri will perform Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto with the symphony. Van Cliburn famously won the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow with a performance of this piece during the Cold War. His old recording for RCA was one of the best sellers in classical music, and even though recording technology has improved tremendously since then, people still listen to it and come away looking dazed. Why does this music have such a grip on us?
A. Yes, I agree that this piece keeps moving us. I guess we, collectively, build emotional connections to often performed melodies — making it difficult to know how it would have felt to hear them for the first time. Something about Tchaikovsky’s tunes make them particularly effective in this process. Maybe it comes from finding such a perfect — and natural — balance between symmetry and free flow, both in melodic and rhythmic shapes. Either way, his first piano concerto is certainly a favorite with performers and audiences worldwide. from the powerful opening to the sizzling finale.
Q. Glinka is little known in this country, although he’s kind of a father figure of Russian music and an inspiration of the so-called Mighty Five. In the days before the internet, it was hard to find any recording of his music in this country. Why did you choose this piece to open the program?
A. Well, Glinda’s important role in Russian music leads nicely to Tchaikovsky — and, more importantly, this overture is one of the most exciting and effective in the repertoire — certainly one or the fastest! Watch, especially, the first violins.
Q. Americans know Dvorak’s Symphony from the New World, but his Seventh Symphony has to be his best. Is that going too far? Why you chose it?
A. Yes, I agree that it is his best — and that is why I chose it! Musicians generally, and composers in particular, tend to agree that this is Dvorak’s strongest symphony. It is more ambitious, musically, than any of the others, with a wider range of emotions — including surprising ones. The third movement is probably the most famous with its bittersweet, nostalgic tenderness — seldom found in the Scherzo (“joke”) movement. But all four movements are emotionally intense and challenging for the orchestra; quite a workout.
Q. How would you compare this symphony to Dvorak’s cello concerto? Does one have a claim to be his greatest orchestral work?
A. Both are such great works — I believe equally revered. And, incidentally, we are planning to perform Dvorak’s cello concerto next season with Houston Symphony principal cellist Brinton Smith.
Q. One last question about your work as a violinist. Your performance of three pieces at the Galveston Symphony’s last concert drew a very long standing ovation, and we see that you also got strong reviews from a recent performance of “Scheherazade” with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. Judy Harrison of the Bangor Daily News wrote that you gave the fictional character who speaks through the music a “passionate determination that transfixed the audience and captured concertgoers’ imaginations.” Harrison also said, “It was a delicate and stunning performance.” Performing and conducting must be hard to do in one concert. How do you shift gears from violinist in the first half of the concert to conductor in the second?
A. Yes, that change is very challenging. I must admit that I asked the orchestra not to be offended if I avoided all contact during intermission — and to help protect me from anyone approaching me. The mental change is much tougher than the physical one — and it took a huge effort to get into the conducting mindset.
Q. Can we expect more such performances next season?
A. No, I don’t have any plans to be soloist again in the foreseeable future — and the original plan for the concert was to have another violin soloist. He canceled just before programs were to be printed, so I stepped in. Glad it all worked out — and thank you for your kind words about my playing.