Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, op. 27
About the music
At his debut with the Philharmoniker in February of 2006, Kirill Petrenko conducted one of his favourite works: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. Almost exactly 15 years later Petrenko, now the orchestra’s chief conductor, has programmed the composition a second time. After the traumatic fiasco of his First Symphony, the Second, whose premiere Rachmaninoff conducted himself in St Petersburg in 1908, was a critical success. Today it is by far the most popular of the composer’s three works in this genre. Like all his symphonies and piano concertos, this epic work is also in a minor key and – particularly during the familiar slow movement, with its expansive clarinet solo – is filled with the melancholy and longing so typical of Rachmaninoff. Equally effective is the second movement, which in addition to intimate melodies also contains echoes of the Dies Irae motif quoted by Rachmaninoff in many of his works.
The second work on the programme is Peter Tchaikovsky’s fantasy overture Romeo and Juliet. Mily Balakirev, the leader of the group “the Mighty Handful”, known in English as The Five, had suggested the subject to the composer. Although Tchaikovsky was already a professor of composition when he wrote the work, he had to put up with criticism such as the following from the autodidact Balakirev, who was only a few years older: “With regard to its deficiencies, namely its form, the overture still needs revising.” Tchaikovsky actually did revise the composition several times, although, as Petrenko pointed out in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, during the process he increasingly emancipated himself from the influence of his severe critic.