In the time since Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky completed his first piano concerto, the work has become cemented as a quintessential piece in many pianists repertoire. Like the quadruple axel in figure skating, or the skateboarder’s coveted 900, performing Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto in public is a daunting task, reserved only for true experts. This Saturday night, Alexander Aylward, MCAS ’17, took it on for the first time in public. Those who congregated in Gasson 100 bore witness to an exhibition of greatness, and the coronation of a Boston College piano-playing legend.
Before Aylward took the stage, the concert began with Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40,” perhaps the most famous of his 41 symphonies—interestingly, one of only two that are in minor keys. Nonetheless, the piece is still Mozartian—listeners were treated to an elegant experience, starting with one of the prodigy’s most famous melodies. Conductor John Finney, director of the BC Symphony Orchestra, brought the piece to life by taking appropriate tempos and accurately conveying the feeling of the piece. In response, the ensemble played beautifully, pleasing listeners with sophisticated phrase-endings and well-emphasized moments of harmonic tension. The orchestra chugged through sonata form like a finely tuned motor, leaving the audience satisfied.
Aylward and the orchestra then lept forward some 100 years into the romantic period for the Tchaikovsky concerto. The first movement, a monster in itself, takes listeners on a journey through many different musical palettes. The unforgettable introductory horn motive introduces a strand of the theme of the first movement, initially in Bb until an eventual arrival in the less agitated relative major. This opening was delivered energetically and set the tone for a thrilling first movement. Aylward’s first test was the piano cadenza, a slight variation on the initial theme. Stuttering block chords and fast lines were no match for his virtuosic playing, and listeners immediately understood the treat that was in store. The remainder of the epic 20-minute movement was full of elegant piano playing, interwoven with a manicured orchestra who together went on a signature Tchaikovskian journey through various atmospheres. Finney expertly guided the orchestra to the end of the movement, building suspense until the famous I-IV-I closing chords were so grand that they absolutely begged for applause.
The second movement is more lyrical than its thrilling predecessor, but still equally captivating. Flautist Isabelle Pazar delivered the sweet opening melody, eventually picked up by the awaiting pianist. The movement depicts a scene reminiscent of a lonely lover sighing as he gazes out the window into a rainy day, recalling a love from days gone by. Aylward expertly delivered the theme, precisely capturing the appropriate espressivo marking. Despite the sugary nature of the majority of the movement, this movement contains some of the most technically difficult piano passages of the entire piece. Tucked away in the middle of the movement are jolts away from the peaceful dreamscape, an anxious drift from contentment. Those who knew the piece excitedly awaited these passages, and Aylward exceeded expectations with supremely nimble fingers.
The shortest of the three, the final movement is forceful and to the point. Aylward played the theme memorably, skillfully accentuating the nuance of time without belaboring listeners with an overly dragged moment. Throughout the movement, great speed and fury called for many technically difficult passages from all players, and the ensemble executed well and in time.
As the movement approached its conclusive finish, clarinetist Derek Cho, CSOM ’19, recalls his experience in the orchestra.
“I was overwhelmed by huge walls of sound, layer upon layer of dramatic tension,” Cho said. “Our conductor, John Finney, led us with great ferocity, inspiring us to play with a burning sense of energy and passion to convey a celebration of life.”
Featured Image By Jake Catania / Heights Staff