Tchaikovsky: “If you do not want to write, at least spit on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and send it to me."
Super Bowl Sunday was one of the greatest comeback performances in history. After a shaky start the team came together and finished like the champions they are.
I speak not of the selfish and immature event that involved football but of the San Diego Symphony’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Okay, the start wasn't really shaky, but it did feel careful until the horns dropped the hammer about a third of the way through the first movement.
The horns didn't just drop a standard three-pound Stanley hammer, they dropped none other than Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor, destroyer of mountains. The three-note phrase crackled with the lighting of the gods.
Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.4/Bernstein/New York Philharmonic
Mjölnir drops at the 8:50 mark in this video.
No composer does this better than Tchaikovsky — this amplification of a relatively simple musical figure. Out of context it is not impressive, but within the emotional outpouring of Tchaikovsky’s struggle with fate these three notes are mind-blowing.
I should qualify that and say they were mind-blowing as performed on Sunday. I’ve listened to a few recordings since then, trying to recapture the moment, but I’m failing.
Maestro Ling and the orchestra did a good job of communicating the manic mood swings of this first movement. Tchaikovsky builds up the drama with the strings, caps it off with the brass, and then has the bassoons act as if it was no big deal.
Tchaikovsky once wrote, “If you do not want to write, at least spit on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and send it to me. You are not taking any notice of me at all. God forgive you — all I wanted was a few words from you.”
The first movement very much feels like the anguish that must have preceded this bitter comment. Anguish, anguish, anguish, then bassoons and woodwinds nonchalantly walk away from the situation only to have the strings begin the agitation once again. Feels like love, doesn’t it?
The rest of the symphony proceeded as Tchaikovsky intended. The tone and tempi were right on and the finale was played with a confident abandon, which, of course, got me to looking forward to Bruckner.
Why am I not mentioning the first half of this sold-out concert? I was half an hour late. I shall explain my tardiness at another time, but I will say that the Super Bowl might have had something to do with it...