Semyon Bychkov on Tchaikovsky

Oct 18, 2019

Conductor Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic's "Tchaikovsky Project" sheds new light on old orchestral standards.

"What is this music that we love so deeply if not our beloved friend? I've loved Tchaikovsky's music ever since I can remember. Like all first loves, this one never died." 

Semyon Bychkov is not exaggerating when he says his love affair with Tchaikovsky's music has been a lifelong one. At age 12, while living in Soviet Leningrad, Bychkov attended a performance of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet; it made such an impression on him that he purchased a secondhand score, conducting from it in the kitchen of his tiny communal apartment after the rest of his family had gone to bed.

For Bychkov, Tchaikovsky is at once an icon, a deity, and painfully, desperately human. His music embodies the very spirit of Russia -- its people, its history, its triumphs and failures and everything in between. It also has its vulnerable moments, where the music and the man who penned it seem supremely self-conscious and plagued with doubt. It's no small wonder that scholars are still debating how Tchaikovsky's personal life impacted his musical one. From Bychkov's perspective,

"The more I have thought about him and played his works, the more deeply I have come to realize that the man and his music were one and the same. He was a fundamentally beautiful and noble man -- like his music. He was a fundamentally sincere, joyful man who loved life -- like his music. He was tortured with doubts -- like his music. He wrote what was true, and that is why his works are so loved all over the world."

Bychkov's Tchaikovsky Project with the Czech Philharmonic is an ongoing exploration of Tchaikovsky's entire body of work. This fall, their new box set aggregates all of Tchaikovsky's symphonies and his piano concertos, played by pianist Kirill Gerstein; the recordings manage to bring new insight to music that has been analyzed endlessly since its first performances. Bychkov gives Tchaikovsky's early symphonies, for example, a surplus of attention and care, transforming them from simply "beautiful pieces" to "revelations." 

The First Piano Concerto, too, gets a redux, as Bychkov and Gerstein discard the revisions Tchaikovsky made to the piece after a series of particulary bad reviews, and return it to its original state. What they find underneath is astonishing in its authenticity, like peeling back a carpet to reveal a perfect floor underneath. 

On October 22, 23, and 24, each of our Symphonies at 8 on WCRB will be from this new Tchaikovsky Project box set. 

Find more information about Semyon Bychkov and the Tchaikovsky Project.