TCHAIKOVSKY IN AMERICA
New York City had a concert hall built by Andrew Carnegie in May 1891. It became the biggest venue for a classical concert in the city. Music festivals were held and in the initial season, Tchaikovsky was invited. These are notes from his diary written to his brother, Modeste, “I was accorded a very warm welcome here with the local papers all running my portraits and writing stories about me. Looks like I’m even more popular here than in Europe. I’m a big shot here, I really am… There are things people in Moscow have hardly heard about while here in America they are played and written about several times a year. Take, for example, my overture to Hamlet, which they never once played in Moscow and which is very well known in America…”
Tchaikovsky was touched by the hospitality shown to him in the New World. “The Americans are absolutely amazing!” he wrote. “Their sincerity, generosity, friendliness and desire to please are absolutely out of this world! Nowhere but in Russia have I ever seen so much love for foreigners.”
The New York Philharmonic Society held a dinner to honour Tchaikovsky and the composer was impressed by the general attention he got. “The list of the treats literally went forever. Halfway through the dinner they served ice cream in special boxes complete with pencils and small wooden plaques featuring excerpts from my music elegantly handwritten on them. I was supposed to put my signature on them too,”.
On 5th May, the opening night's program featured music by Beethoven, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky who personally conducted his music. The moment the final chord ended, there was a deafening applause. Tchaikovsky got a standing ovation.
“Tchaikovsky is a tall, gray-haired and well built man of about 60,” The New York Herald wrote. "He looks a bit embarrassed as he returns the ovation with short and brisk bows. The moment he picks up the baton and starts conducting, however, his confidence is back and he steers the orchestra with a firm hand…” . In his interviews, Tchaikovsky talked about how he loved America and New York City with its fast moving lifestyle, architecture and a penchant for new things.
“Tchaikovsky’s second appearance at the festival was as successful as the first time and the Symphony Society orchestra had never played the way it did that night… Mr. Tchaikovsky is a courageous and inspired conductor, driven, confident and magnetic and he made the orchestra into a very special organism playing with clockwork precision. No one has ever been able control the orchestra the way Tchaikovsky does…”. The newspapers were full of rave accounts about Tchaikovsky’s performance.
On His birthday on 7th May and then again on 15th May, the first piano concerto was played by Adele Aus der Ohe. “Tchaikovsky’s concerto is one of the finest in modern music,” eulogized The Evening Sun newspaper. It is replete with expressive melody lines and fresh orchestral effects. Miss Aus der Ohe and Mr. Tchaikovsky got big kudos and a standing ovation this hall had never seen before. The Americans realized once again that Tchaikovsky’s participation was the biggest highlight of the whole festival…” Once the concerts were over, Tchaikovsky visited the Niagara Falls.
While returning back on the sea liner, Tchaikovsky admired the Statue of Liberty. He was not aware that this would be his only voyage across the Atlantic to the New World. He was dead within a couple of years.