Ollikainen & Sibelius’s Legends

feat. Gabriela Montero and NACO

2023-03-01 20:00 2023-03-02 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Ollikainen & Sibelius’s Legends


In-person event

The artistry of Venezuelan-born pianist and NACO creative partner Gabriela Montero might well defy description, but it is always magically rewarding. Her masterful execution of classical repertoire and her uncanny ability to improvise complicated musical pieces in real time, often based on themes suggested by her audience, make her truly a one-of-a-kind musician. In Montero’s hands, Tchaikovsky’s beloved Piano Concerto No. 1 moves effortlessly between the enchanting, the titanic, and...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
March 1 - 2, 2023



Fairytale Poem

Piotr Ilitch Tchaïkovsky

Piano Concerto No. 1

I. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito
II. Andantino semplice – Prestissimo
III. Allegro con fuoco

“Worthless and unplayable.” “Passages so fragmented, so clumsy, so badly written that they were beyond rescue.” “The work itself was bad, vulgar. …only two or three pages were worth preserving; the rest must be thrown away or completely rewritten.” According to Tchaikovsky in a letter to his patron Nadezhda von Meck, these were Nikolai Rubenstein’s first impressions of the composer’s First Piano Concerto. He had hoped Rubenstein would perform the work and had brought it to him for consultation on the solo part. Rubenstein said he’d only play it if the composer revised the work substantially. Greatly offended, Tchaikovsky said that he would not alter one note and offered Hans von Bülow the premiere instead, which occurred in Boston on October 24, 1875, on one of von Bülow’s tours. While critics were initially skeptical about the piece, it was a huge success with the audience.  

And it has remained beloved and popular in the concert hall today. (Initial drama aside, Rubenstein eventually warmed to the piece, conducting it and playing the solo part himself; Tchaikovsky ultimately did make some revisions.) Compared to concertos written earlier in the 19th century, this one is of unprecedented grand scale, with piano and orchestra as equals in the unfolding of its drama. The piano part demands much from the soloist, not only virtuosic technical displays—double octave passages, quicksilver runs, rhapsodic cadenzas, and the like—but also deep expressiveness. The large orchestral part is symphonic in scope and sophistication, presenting and developing musical material in intense dialogue with the pianist.

This concerto’s emotional appeal owes much to Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable melodies. After a stern horn call, it opens with a soaring melody played by the violins and cellos, accompanied by majestic chords on the piano. While the tune only appears in the work’s introduction, certain aspects of it are subtly embedded in later motifs. Moreover, its passionate character connects it to the lyrical themes in the concerto’s other movements.

Providing striking contrast are several melodies based on popular tunes. The lively main theme of the first movement proper is based on a street song accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy that Tchaikovsky had heard in Ukraine. In the second movement, following the tender lullaby, the sparkling middle section features the orchestra playing a French popular tune, “Il faut s’amuser, danser et rire”, that Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest recalled he and his brothers singing together frequently in the early 1870s. The spirited first theme of the third movement is a Ukrainian spring song, while the Russian folk tune “I am going to Tsar-gorod” is the basis of the second theme. It is the latter’s expansive melody that, following a technical firework of a piano cadenza, forms the magnificent climax of the movement. Together, orchestra and piano present it in full glory—thereby closing the grand lyrical arc that was introduced at the beginning of the concerto—after which they hurtle to a dazzling finish.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley


Lemminkainen Suite, Op. 22