A Little Star Quality

A Little Star Quality

Tchaikovsky’s Variations puts cellist center stage



It will be the skill and talent of Parisian cellist Edgar Moreau on display in Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme when the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas performs the final concert of its season on May 4.

But Moreau owes the creation of the piece not just to the 19th century Russian composer but to Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, a German cellist who collaborated with Tchaikovsky on its creation.

It was — and is — standard practice for a composer to turn to expert musicians to test his compositions, explains Matthew Herren, executive director of SoNA and a cellist himself. Fitzenhagen and Tchaikovsky met at the Moscow Conservatory, and he frequently performed the composer’s concert pieces and chamber works. But Variations on a Rococo Theme was actually written for and dedicated to Fitzenhagen in 1876.

The Tchaikovsky Research website points out that Fitzenhagen “took it upon himself to make drastic ‘improvements’ to the original score, even to the extent of excising an entire variation.”

With its eight variations intact, however, “this is the piece that shows everything you have as a cellist,” says Herren, “the whole range of the instrument, floor to ceiling. The ending in particular really shows off every bit of technique one could ever hope to have.”

Herren admits that Variations on a Rococo Theme might not be immediately recognizable to lay audiences in the way Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” is, for example, “but it’s immediately likeable — Tchaikovsky ‘light,’ in a way, with a small orchestra with only horns and no percussion.”

Moreau, who is just 25 — Fitzenhagen was 28 when the piece was written for him — won the second prize in Russia’s formidable Tchaikovsky Competition at the age of 17. When he was 19, France’s top music awards, Les Victoires de la Musique, named him the year’s “Révélation” among young classical instrumentalists. And at 20, he released his debut album.

“One always comes to a young musician’s concert with a hope that this will be that special day when you hear a performer who you are absolutely sure will be a star of the future,” the editor of the international music website Bachtrack wrote in 2013. “That hope only comes to fruition on a small number of occasions: [Moreau’s] concert was one of them.”



SoNA Presents

Masterworks IV:

The Rite of Spring

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. May 4

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $32-$55

INFO — 443-5600

BONUS — Ticket holders are invited to attend a pre-concert Creative Conversation with Maestro Haas in Baum Walker Hall at 6:30 p.m.

Categories: Music