Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

An introduction to Russian musical creativity

Posted by Kimberly on October 19, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
October 19, 2007, page 4 (438 words)


Three composers were chosen to represent the generations of Russian musical creativity by the Russian National Orchestra (RNO) last night. Playing to a full audience in the grand auditorium of the Macau Cultural Centre, those composers were Mikhail Glinka, Sergei Prokofiev and Piotr Tchaikovsky, whose final ballet, The Nutcracker, is well loved even today.
Glinka was evidently chosen as he is widely considered the father of Russian classical music, and was the first composer to gain wide recognition within his own country.
His Russlan and Ludmilla Overture was the composer’s second great Russian opera, and while not as immediately successful as his first, was certainly more influential. It contains Persian influences and made use of a seven-step whole-tone scale for the first time in European music. It’s an uplifting and joyous piece of music, with a playful edge. The melodramatic ending was something the conductor, Alexander Vedernikov, appeared to thoroughly relish. The story resembles that of the Arabian Nights, with Russlan fighting his way through sorcerers, witches and sirens to reach Ludmilla and win her hands.
Excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suites 1 and 2 reflect the musical experience the composer already possessed prior to its incarnation. It had been noted that Prokofiev possessed a special gift for ballet music, and this version was eventually picked up by the Bolshoi and Kirov theatres in the 1940s and going on to inspire productions outside of the country.
In Masks, the fourth excerpt played from Suite 1, we see the swagger of the Montagues as they enter the ball disguised. The music reflects a happier lighter notion, more regimented, with a focus on violas and flutes.
The Death of Tybalt score expresses the sword fighting between Mercutio and Tybalt, with Romeo’s rash revenge. Beginning as a slow, drawn-out piece, it gives out a dangerous undertone. As it gains momentum, it becomes more melancholic, and sweeping, before slowing down to its original tempo, signifying the end.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5 in E minor, op.64, is comprised of four movements. While the movements begin with a funereal characteristic, they end with a triumphant march. Tchaikovsky chose Providence as the topic for this symphony, reflecting an optimistic outlook. The second movement, Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza, contains a memorable melody for a horn solo.
The RNO, having formed in 1990, can claim to be the only orchestra to have received a Grammy award in 2004 for a CD featuring Prokofiev and Jean-Pascal Beintus.
The night was a splendid introduction to Russian classical music for the uninitiated with the orchestra having journeyed to Macau on the way to their Singapore Sun Festival tour.


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