By Paul Hyde: May 6, 2015
Edvard Tchivzhel saw Leonard Bernstein conduct in person only once.
It was 1959 and Bernstein, the charismatic music director of the New York Philharmonic, had brought the orchestra to Saint Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, in the Soviet Union.
“I was a school boy at the time but I remember the concert well,” Tchivzhel said. “It was very exciting, amazing. I never stopped being amazed by Bernstein.”
Tchivzhel, music director of the Greenville Symphony, will pay tribute to Bernstein at the orchestra’s season-closing program, “Americana,” with two performances on Saturday, May 16 and Sunday, May 17.
Featured will be Bernstein’s Overture to “West Side Story,” his Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” and his Divertimento for Orchestra.
“It will be a special homage for this multi-talented genius,” said Tchivzhel, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1991, a year after Bernstein’s death. “He excelled in so many areas, as a composer, conductor, piano player, educator and writer. There is no parallel in history.”
Also on the jazz-inspired program will be a suite of music from Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”
“It’s all-American music and the best of American music,” Tchivzhel said. “We chose this program to bring our season to a festive conclusion. These are well-known and beloved pieces.”
Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances includes several melodies — including “Somewhere,” “Mambo” and “Cool” — from the composer’s innovative 1957 musical “West Side Story.”
Bernstein’s original Broadway score was written for an orchestra of only 31 players. He greatly expanded the score for the instrumental excerpts offered in the 1961 Symphonic Dances.
Tchivzhel’s orchestra will feature about 90 musicians.
Bernstein’s highly syncopated Symphonic Dances is a famously spirited but tough piece for an orchestra.
“It’s incredibly challenging,” Tchivzhel said. “It’s as difficult to play as it’s easy to listen to.”
Tchivzhel decided to include the Overture from the show because it offers a few tunes, such as “Tonight,” not included in the Symphonic Dances.
Tchivzhel plans to proceed directly into the Symphonic Dances without pause after the Overture.
Bernstein’s Divertimento for Orchestra, meanwhile, was written in 1980 to celebrate the centennial of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
“It has eight short movements with incredible wit and humor,” Tchivzhel said.
The program closes with “Porgy and Bess: Symphonic Picture,” a suite of musical numbers from the opera arranged in 1942 by Gershwin’s friend and assistant Robert Russell Bennett.
Included are such tunes as “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” “Summertime,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and “It’s Ain’t Necessarily So.”
“It includes all the famous songs,” Tchivzhel said. “It’s a short digest of the whole opera. It’s a big challenge for the orchestra to deliver it in the proper way because everybody knows every note of this music. You have to make sure you do it right.”
Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will lead free pre-concert talks one hour before each concert in the Peace Center’s backstage rehearsal room. Follow Paul on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
YOU CAN GO
What: “Americana,” a program by the Greenville Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Edvard Tchivzhel
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 16; also 3 p.m. Sunday, May 17 (Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will lead an admission-free pre-concert talk one hour before each concert in the Peace Center’s backstage rehearsal room)
Where: Peace Center Concert Hall, downtown Greenville
Tickets: $16 to $57
Information: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org