Winter Concert: Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence

Selecting pieces to program for each concert is always a collaborative effort amongst the Civitas musicians. We each suggest pieces that we really want to play, old favorites, works we aspire to learn, or friends we want to perform with. We then use them as an anchor to build a cohesive program. For the December 3rd holiday concert, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence was Yuan-Qing Yu’s choice. Written right after a stay in Florence, the sextet came as a welcome change of pace from Tchaikovsky’s labors on the opera Pique Dame and the ballet The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky referred to his creative process of writing this sextet as: “I wrote it with the greatest enthusiasm and with the least exertion.” Last time Yuan-Qing performed this joyous work, it was with none other than Yo-Yo Ma. This time, it’s again with a tour-de-force group including Civitas Ensemble member Kenneth Olsen and former Assistant Principal Stephen Balderston on cello, Weijing Michal and Youming Chen on viola. Yuan-Qing is joined by Charlene Kluegel on violin.

With Souvenir de Florence taking the second half of the program, we thought it made sense to stay with the Russian theme. Ken Olsen suggested Rachmaninoff Sonata for Piano and Cello, op. 19. Yes, Rachmaninoff titled it “Sonata for Piano and Cello”, putting the emphasis on piano. The Sonata was written during the summer of 1901 for his good friend, and best man at his wedding, Anatoli Brandukov. The two friends gave the premiere on December 2, 1901, in Moscow. The piano part, far from merely an accompaniment, challenges the pianist’s technical capacity, like most of Rachmaninoff’s works for the instrument. The dynamic duo of Winston Choi and Ken Olsen, will explore the full intensity and virtuosity of both the piano and cello. Rich in sonority and visually invigorating, this sonata was Rachmaninoff’s last chamber work before he turned principally to works for orchestra and for solo piano. 

When choosing a piece to open this program, there was no doubt in our mind that we wanted to feature Lera Auerbach’s music. Her cello concerto “Diary of a Madman” was premiered with Gautier Capuçon and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2021. Hailed for her creativity, Auerbach is a pianist, composer, conductor, poet, and visual artist. Her compositions reflect all her artistic endeavors, full of imagination and drama. The String Quartet No. 10, “Frozen Dreams,” was written in 2020 for the joint commission “Four Seasons” for string quartet. Four composers were asked to contribute one movement in which to “explore the perpetual flux of the natural world.” Auerbach wrote for the season of Winter. When asked about inspiration for this work, she remarked, “Dreams often provide the creative spark. I dream, then dissect the dream into sounds, translate the sounds into symbols, which can resurrect the dream”. 

Join us on Dec. 3rd to hear this program played by some of the finest musicians in Chicago. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, subscribe to Civitas Ensemble YouTube channel, and sign up for our newsletter.