By Paul Hyde: September 15, 2016
Greenville’s charismatic orchestral conductor Edvard Tchivzhel pays tribute to his homeland, Russia, and his beloved adopted country, America, in the season-opening concert of the Greenville Symphony, Sept. 24-25.
At the same Peace Center concerts, Greenville’s chart-busting singer-songwriter Edwin McCain will try on a new hat: narrator with a symphony orchestra.
The program titled “The Great Escape” celebrates the 25th anniversary of Tchivzhel’s dramatic defection from the Soviet Union.
“It’s like a farewell to the past and hello to the present and future,” Tchivzhel said.
Featured composers include Tchaikovsky, reflecting Tchivzhel’s Russian roots, and two Americans — Copland and Gershwin — drawing attention to the conductor’s life in the U.S.
Tchivzhel was appointed music director and conductor of the Greenville Symphony in 1999 — the same year he became an American citizen.
“I started a new life and have lived 25 years in this beautiful country,” Tchivzhel said. “I feel 25 years old.”
At the beginning of the program, the Greenville Symphony will debut a 7-minute documentary about Tchivzhel, his defection and the conductor’s considerable impact on Greenville’s cultural life.
McCain, for his part, will be the featured speaker for Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait.”
“It’s going to be a challenge,” McCain said, with laugh. “It’s not what I normally do. There’s no singing.”
Copland’s iconic 1942 piece weaves a tapestry of orchestral music around the words of Abraham Lincoln.
“It’s a very patriotic piece indeed,” Tchivzhel said.
Copland excerpts Lincoln’s letters and speeches, including the Gettysburg Address. His music, meanwhile, quotes from American folk songs of the period, such as “Camptown Races” and “Springfield Mountain.”
“I’m thrilled to be invited for this great piece of music,” said McCain, best known for such hits as “I’ll Be” and “I Could Not Ask for More.”
The works Tchivzhel chose for the upcoming concerts are sentimental favorites for the conductor.
Tchaikovsky’s lyrical Third Symphony is the work Tchivzhel conducted on Long Island, New York with the USSR State Symphony on the night before he defected in 1991.
Likewise, “A Lincoln Portrait” was the first piece Tchivzhel conducted in Greenville — with a Governor’s School student orchestra in the summer of 1991.
“It was my first gig with local forces,” he said.
Also on the program is Gershwin’s spirited and bluesy “An American in Paris.”
“It’s a fantastic piece, one of my favorites,” Tchivzhel said. “It’s famous for its beautiful melody and sparkling energy. I used to conduct it a lot in the Soviet Union.”
McCain, meanwhile, is looking forward to stepping outside of his comfort zone to narrate “A Lincoln Portrait.”
“I was saying to my wife that I love this career of mine because it offers something different all the time,” he said. “But I think the preparation for this is probably going to be triple what my preparation is for other musical endeavors because orchestras are very thorough.”
McCain, a Greenville native, loves embracing new challenges. Recently, he was featured as a boat-restorer on Animal Planet’s “Flipping Ships.”
Although McCain has never served as a narrator with an orchestra, for several years he’s performed his own music with orchestras, such as the Atlanta Symphony.
“Symphonic players are the top of the mountain when it comes to musicianship and it’s really an honor to be around people who spend that much time and dedication to their art,” McCain said. “To be carried away by professionals in a symphony is really the answer to many prayers. It’s a beautiful sound.”
After 25 years of active touring, McCain said he’s cut back on performances, playing 50-100 gigs a year rather than 150-200.
He particularly enjoys spending more time with his three children, ages 6 to 10 years old.
“I’m home with my kids, doing the Dad thing as much as I can,” he said.
As a songwriter, McCain said he once waited for inspiration. Now, he sets deadlines for himself.
“I’m releasing three new songs every three months,” McCain said. “I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t give myself a deadline, I’ll just keep putting it off. I finally said to myself, ‘Look, dummy, if you want to be a good songwriter for, God willing, the next 10 to 20 years, you’re going to have to do this every day.’ So the idea of turning out music regularly is my challenge to myself.”
McCain, 46, once wanted to leave Greenville for the big city, but his perspective has changed completely.
“It flies in the face of the 17-year-old I once was, but I’m the happiest Greenvillian,” he said.
Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present a free pre-concert talk one hour before the Greenville Symphony’s season-opening concerts.
For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.