Stephen Hough Said He Would Never Play Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto ...
On October 27, pianist Stephen Hough joins Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra for a performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. Here, Hough describes his mixed feelings about the piece.
Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto ... it dogs the piano student throughout his or her life. Every conservatory practice room, every teacher's studio, every competition's final-round, rings with those wretched D-flat major chords. I avoided the work for years, despite being offered many performances, and I was quite content for it to be the missing piece on my repertoire list. But then one day I was teaching it in a masterclass and it began to reveal itself. I began to see the particular conflicts within the piece: the innocence of lost childhood singing poignantly alongside the emotional adulthood which replaced it; the classicism of the composer who admired Mozart above all, combined with the romanticism of the composer whose heart and sleeve were bigger than all others. It seemed a work alive and on fire—inspired in every bar. Ideas about how I might play it started teeming in my mind—I really wanted to learn this piece.
After my Rachmaninov concerto cycle had been issued in 2004 the idea floated around the Hyperion offices: "What about Tchaikovsky next?" I wasn't sure about the other pieces but started tinkering around with the Second Concerto. Ideas started to awaken here too. What if the opening tempo should be faster than it's traditionally done? It is Allegro Brilliante after all. And what if the opening theme itself is blazing and intense rather than the more familiar majestic interpretation? And similarly the orchestral tuttis ... could they not have an urgency which would propel them forward with ardour and passion? The Second Concerto, more than the First, relies on the quality of the orchestral playing to keep it from sounding foursquare in places. When Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra agreed to be involved in the project I knew that these qualities I was hoping for would be assured.
I played all four adrenaline-soaked works in the BBC Proms 2009 season, and recording them 'live' in concerts in Minneapolis was the final step in trying to capture on CD the searing passion of Tchaikovsky's music. It felt like swinging on a trapeze without a safety net a lot of the time, heart in mouth and fingers on keys in perilous balance. But the heart does not just beat faster with these glorious works, it throbs with the human warmth of a composer who lets us into his private world like a treasured friend. His vulnerability invites intimacy ... and, let's not forget it, sheer good fun. The third movement of the Second Concerto is a riot of a romp, full of fun and high spirits. No wonder that he got on so well with children.