We welcome guest pianist and Russian vocal coach Ghenady Meirson to the Tchaikovsky’s Biography in Music.
Ghenady (born in Odessa, Ukraine), is a faculty member of The Academy of Vocal Arts and The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (where he also studied). He has prepared many artists for opera, oratorio, recitals, and recordings, and helped such organizations as The Philadelphia Orchestra, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Singers and Mendelssohn Club Chorus. Ghenady is a founder of PrivateLessons.com, a membership-based network for independent music teachers. Now a leader in its niche, the network helps teachers attract private music students across the United States and Canada.
Ghenady shared his thoughts about Tchaikovsky and the upcoming program with the Lyric Fest’s publicist Inna Heasley.
What are your thoughts about Tchaikovsky’s vocal repertoire, does his writing have its own signature?
GM: If Tchaikovsky was alive today, he would be a supremely rich man from The Nutcracker royalties alone. His music has universal appeal. It is honest and goes straight to the heart.
Tchaikovsky combines an exceptional gift for writing unforgettable melodies and strong grounding in Western classical composition traditions. At times, it is difficult to distinguish a Russian folk tune from an original Tchaikovsky melody. He is Russia!
If I were to describe Tchaikovsky’s vocal writing in adjectives, these would include ‘elegant’, ‘rich’, ‘lyrical’, ’emotional’, ‘dramatic’ and ‘haunting.’ He uses the voice to deliver the lyrics’ meaning simply and directly, never resorting to unnecessary vocal acrobatics.
His songs are gems. Setting music to already polished poetry by Alexander Pushkin or Leo Tolstoy must have been a joy. In composing opera, he was extremely demanding on his librettists. Working with his brother Modest on Queen of Spades and Iolanta, he required utmost efficiency, mercilessly eliminating extra words.
With Eugene Onegin and Queen of Spades, Tchaikovsky takes center stage in the international world of opera. Subjects of love, passage of time, and greed, are poignant and always contemporary. Tchaikovsky was deeply interested in human emotions. These operas succeed in transcending cultures and eras.
Your annual Russian Romance programs at AVA are well-known and always well attended. What is the idea behind these Russian recitals?
GM: American audiences love Russian music. I started to coach Russian repertoire while a student at Curtis, and since 1989, I have been doing the Russian Romances program at the AVA.
My primary goal is to offer students the experience with this repertoire. I am pragmatic about selections for each artist. I want them to use these works in auditions and concerts.
In today’s hiring environment, opera companies cast American singers in Russian roles alongside the Russian-born singers. Some of our former AVA students are hired to sing Russian roles in major opera houses around the world, including the Met.
What can you tell us about Tchaikovsky’s trip to America?
GM: While he had many challenges, his happier of times was his two-month visit to the United States as a conductor in 1891. He visited Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York where he enjoyed daily walks in then very new Central Park. He cherished his interactions with New York’s high society and continued to work on The Nutcracker ballet and Iolanta as a double bill commission.
Tchaikovsky conducted the opening of Carnegie Hall. Orchestra musicians went wild over him. In a letter to his brother Modest he wrote how much more famous and appreciated he is in America than back home in Russia.
Ghenady, we welcome your debut with Lyric Fest in this program! What attracted you in this invitation?
GM: While on a business trip to Boston last year, I got a call from Laura Wardwho extended the invitation to do a Tchaikovsky program with Lyric Fest. I was touched. I admire Laura’s work immensely.
I worked with Suzanne DuPlantis when she was an AVA Resident Artist. We performed some of the Tchaikovsky selections that are on this Lyric Fest program. She has such deep appreciation and feeling for this music. I loved working with Suzanne.
While our paths didn’t cross, Randi Marrazzo and I were students at Curtis at the same time.
In my view, Lyric Fest has emerged as one of the more important concert series in the Philadelphia area. Lyric Fest presents a fresh and engaging concert format that delivers a fulfilling emotional return to its audiences.
If you had a chance to invite people to this program, what would you say to them?
GM: One of the AVA’s patrons buys tickets for each night of Russian Romances performances. The other day he dropped off a box of Russian chocolates in appreciation for our work, adding that he’d like to see us increase the number of Russian performance dates.
I invite everyone to attend Lyric Fest’s Tchaikovsky program and enjoy the music and a life story of an exceptional composer. Just as the AVA patron I mentioned, you may find yourselves moved enough to send Lyric Fest some Russian chocolates!
Where can we see you play piano?
GM: Since I perform in public on a very limited basis, I started to record short piano pieces for my YouTube channel, just to keep my piano playing in top shape. In 2007, I recorded a piece from Tchaikovsky’s piano cycle The Seasons (“Harvest” – August).
Recently, this piece was used in a movie “Orphan.” This was not my performance but movie fans began scouring the web in search of the piece and discovered my video. Based on user comments it is wonderful to see the many different ways Tchaikovsky’s music is discovered.
Catch Ghenady on YouTube: Ghenady Meirson plays Tchaikovsky’s “Harvest”. But most importantly – catch him play live Tchaikovsky at Biography in Music on February 27-28!