Born in Bakersfield, award-winning principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet Tiler Peck joins the BSO as a special guest artist for this program.
The concert will broadcast free on KERO-23 ABC TV Sunday, October 11th at 4:30pm.
By Dr. Scott Dirkse
George Walker: Lyric for Strings
They say there’s a first time for everything. Well, George Walker (1922–2018) became the first black instrumentalist to appear with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the first black pianist to sign with major management, the first black student to receive a doctoral degree from Eastman School of Music, the first black faculty member to be tenured at Smith College, and the first black composer to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Although Walker aspired to be a concert pianist (and certainly had the ability), his skin color unfortunately prevented him from being able to secure any steady performance opportunities at the start of his career. Instead he spent much of his time teaching and composing. Walker composed the Lyric for Strings as a side project during his piano studies at the Curtis Institute. The piece originated as the second movement of what became his first major composition: his String Quartet, No. 1 (1946). Dedicated to his recently deceased grandmother, Walker rearranged the movement for string orchestra, and it became his most frequently performed work. One can’t help but notice its kinship with the famous Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. (After all, both men did study composition with Rosario Scalero at Curtis.)
Walker continued to compose into his nineties, passing away in 2018 at age 96. In his New York Times obituary, his son reminisced on his father’s favorite pastimes: “From the time of his youth, Dad was a competitive tennis player, an uncompromising audiophile, and above all, a connoisseur of fine tomatoes.”
Watch this performance by the Chineke! Orchestra during the BBC Proms 2017, conducted by Kevin John Edusei
Listen to the original string quartet version, performed by the Son Sonora String Quartet.
Watch this 2012 interview with George Walker, as he approached his 90th birthday.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings, op. 48
In 1880 Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) composed what would become one of his most popular pieces—his 1812 Overture (with a famous theme now frequently heard as an accompaniment to American fireworks displays). But the overture wasn’t Tchaikovsky’s favorite piece that he composed that year—that honor goes to tonight’s Serenade for Strings. Tchaikovsky described the differences between the two works in a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck: “The Overture will be very loud and noisy, but I wrote it without any warm feelings of love, and so it will probably be of no artistic worth. But the Serenade, on the contrary, I wrote from inner compulsion. This is a piece from the heart.” The four-movement work even received praise from his former teacher, the curmudgeonly Anton Rubeinstein (never known to sing Tchaikovsky’s praises), who said it was his best composition.
In the first movement Tchaikovsky employs a classical sonatina form, his “homage to Mozart.” (Some of you gamers may recognize the opening music as Stefano Valentini’s theme from the Playstation/Xbox game The Evil Within 2.) The second movement, a charming waltz, has become the most popular movement of the Serenade and is often performed as a stand-alone piece. The mood darkens a bit for the third movement, a melancholic Élégie. Listen carefully to the very end of the movement—the string players all use a special technique that produces harmonics, giving a delicate, ethereal to the last three noes. You may notice the orchestra members add a device called a mute to their instruments before the final movement starts, created a subdued sound for the introductory Russian folk song before the tempo quickens and a second more rollicky folk song takes us through the bulk of the movement. Just when it seems like our fun has ended, Tchaikovsky repeats once more the very first theme of the Serenade, reminding us where our journey began.
Tiler Peck: Guest Artist
As a special treat, the BSO’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade will also feature a dance performance by Bakersfield native Tiler Peck, now a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet. Learn more about Ms. Peck by reading her NYCB profile and watching her dance to another Tchaikovsky masterpiece.
For more information about Ms. Peck, the concert music, and the conductor of the BSO, watch this concert preview video featuring the BSO’s Director of Education Outreach, Kendra Green.