Continuing its new programme of online concert streams, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is led this week by Semyon Bychkov in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5, recorded at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on 19th June, 2020.
Semyon Bychkov, Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic, is equally in demand for both his symphonic and operatic repertoire. He has long-standing and successful relationships with many of the major orchestras and opera houses of London, Paris, Vienna, Milan, Berlin, Chicago, New York and San Francisco, as well as with the Concertgebouw. Having made his debut with the Orchestra in 1984, he has been a regular guest since then.
Maestro Bychkov holds the Klemperer Chair at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Guther Wand Chair with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and now, in his second season with the Czech Philharmonic, he is engaged in a programme of online concerts, the most recent of which was the Orchestra’s first performance of Bryce Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos, with guest artists Katia and Marielle Labèque.
Born in St Petersburg, Semyon Bychkov has loved the music of Tchaikovsky, he says, ever since he can remember, and, “Like all first loves this one never died”. In 2015 Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic embarked on an extensive exploration of the symphonic music of the great Russian composer – The Tchaikovsky Project. By the culmination of this project in 2019, they had recorded together all of the composer’s symphonies, his three piano concertos (with pianist Kirill Gerstein), his Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, the Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini.
Tchaikovsky, bereft of inspiration, and frequently wondering whether he was “played out”, started writing his Fifth Symphony in May 1888, struggling to settle down to his project. After much procrastination and doubt about his ongoing capability to write, he managed to finish the composition and orchestration of the symphony during the month of August, triumphantly declaring: “My symphony is ready, and I think that I have not miscalculated, that it has turned out well”.
Following the premiere performances of the Symphony in St Petersburg and Prague in November of that year, Tchaikovsky was troubled. In a letter to his patron Nadezhda von Meck, he wrote: “I am convinced that this symphony is not a success.” It was well received by the composer’s friends after its first performance in Moscow in December 1888, however, and by the time that the work was performed in Hamburg in March 1889, Tchaikovsky once again felt satisfied with it. “The Fifth Symphony was again performed magnificently, and I have started to love it again; my earlier judgement was undeservedly harsh…”. Would that he could have known just how popular his Fifth Symphony has remained to this day.
Semyon Bychkov leads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in an online performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5 on Friday, 12th February. It can be viewed free of charge on the Concertgebouw website, on the Orchestra’s Facebook page and on its Youtube channel. The streams will start at 8.00 pm CET. Following this transmission, the video will remain accessible via concertgebouworkest.nl/en/watch-and-listen.