Winter dreaming: Don’t underestimate Tchaikovsky & Sibelius

By Daniel Black
TFO Associate Conductor

This is a big weekend for TFO Associate Conductor Daniel Black: He’s conducting his first Masterworks concert with The Florida Orchestra. Now in his second season with TFO, Black has been an integral part of our extensive community concerts, conducting our recent run of space-themed Youth and Family concerts and much, much more. A total Star Wars geek since middle school, he also can’t wait to conduct Star Wars in Concert: Return of the Jedi on Jan. 25 at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Black is an accomplished composer as well as conductor, and here he gives his take on this weekend’s Winter Dreams concert:

I think of each of these works as having a landscape quality. This is especially true with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1, in which the titles of the first and second movements even refer to landscapes: “Dreams of a Winter Journey,” and “Land of Desolation, Land of Mists.”

There’s something epic about all three of these works, like a wide shot in film. Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony doesn’t get nearly as much attention as his later symphonies, yet it helped launch his career, before any of his more famous pieces had been composed.  In contrast to his violently passionate later works, this is a symphony that owes as much to Mendelssohn as Beethoven, and shows Tchaikovsky when he was still young, fresh out of the Conservatory, and with his whole life and career in front of him. It’s a work of inspiration and freshness.

Sibelius, on the other hand, had enjoyed major success before he composed his only violin concerto. Even though Sibelius was himself a violinist, it took a lot of revisions to get to the piece we now admire as one of the finest violin concertos ever written. Some concertos are written primarily as a vehicle for the soloists to demonstrate their virtuosity. This concerto, although fiendishly difficult, has a much deeper artistic expressive content – perfect for our guest violinist, Benjamin Beilman, who is well-known for his impassioned performances around the globe.

I’m especially excited about a relatively new work (2014) by Canadian composer Vivian Fung. Although the title is Fanfare, this piece is quite a departure from what you might expect. Unlike most fanfares, it’s contemplative and almost introverted at times, and contains an extensive and expressive solo for the trumpet, featuring our own spectacular Principal Trumpet Robert Smith.  As Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 was his compositional introduction to the world, I hope that Fanfare will be a compositional introduction to TFO’s audience that will spark interest in getting to know more about this talented composer. (Hear an interview with Fung by WSMR’s Tyler Kline here.)

Finally, as you might have noticed, all three works are by Northern composers. All of them have a certain stoic exoticism that perhaps can be explained by enduring months of bleak weather every year!

Tampa Bay Times Masterworks
Winter Dreams: Tchaikovsky & Sibelius
Daniel Black, conductor
Benjamin Beilman, violin
Vivian Fung: Fanfare
Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1, “Winter Dreams”
Fri, Nov 15, 8 pm, Straz Center, Ferguson (click for tickets)
Sat, Nov 16, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater (click for tickets)
Free tickets for kids and teens in advance
Join the pre-concert conversation at 7 pm

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