Nickel for Your Thoughts: Tchaikovsky’s String Serenade

Program Spotlight, Tony Nickle

In his own words, Artistic Administrator Tony Nickle shares what he believes to be the high points of the program, but with a little edge and humor for good measure.

I hope all of you had an enjoyable and safe Thanksgiving. No doubt it was difficult for many who were unable to celebrate in typical fashion. This weekend’s program could not be more well-suited to inspiring feelings we crave in the holiday season: boisterous energy, joy, and beauty.  

We begin the evening with Francis Poulenc’s Sinfonietta. This may be one of my most favorite pieces for orchestra that is not part of the standard rep. Now that I think about it, Poulenc may be my favorite mid-20th-century composer! His opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites, is unbelievably beautiful and heart-wrenching. His Organ Concerto – you may remember Cameron Carpenter playing that on our Bryan Concert Organ two years ago – is exhilarating. The Sinfonietta’s first three minutes tell you everything you can expect from this piece, beginning with a light-hearted and energetic spirit that quickly gives way to cinematic melodies you’d swear were straight out of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The very ending is so quirky; it sounds like he was up against a deadline and wrapped it up with a quick flourish, which reminds me of many of the papers I wrote in college.  

After the Poulenc all the winds, brass and percussion exit the stage, leaving only the string section for Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. We all know Tchaikovsky for his grand, powerful and lush music; the epic opening to his Piano Concerto, Swan LakeThe NutcrackerRomeo and Juliette – all bullseyes with his hallmark traits. So how does this Russian from the Romantic Era possibly pair with the wry, Neoclassical Poulenc? For one, the sweeping melodies of both the Tchaikovsky Serenade and Poulenc Sinfonietta are quite natural bedfellows. Also, in the Serenade’s first movement Tchaikovsky incorporates stylistic elements from one of his great heroes: Mozart (pretty hard to argue with that one). The opening slow section imitates the slow introductions Mozart would often employ before launching into the Allegro (think the overtures from Magic FluteDon Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, and openings to Symphonies 36-39)Then the Allegro portion of the first movement is filled with elegant, buoyant rhythms that resemble a well-oiled engine, and it’s this material that so perfectly complements the spirited joie de vivre of the Neoclassical Sinfonietta.  

There we have it: two pieces from quite different composers bearing strikingly similar characteristics to make a delicious pairing. I hope to see you at the concert Friday or Saturday evening, or tuning in to our livestream on Friday night to experience a program filled with beauty and joy. 

By Tony Nickle, Artistic Administrator