MSO Plays Petrushka

Andrea Gillum

A playful and drama filled evening with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
MSO Plays Petrushka

 Bramwell Tovey, conductor. Photograph by David Cooper via MSO.

A warm autumn night set the scene for the MSO in their grand home of Hamer Hall. The program joined the Russian classics of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky with contemporary soviet-born composer Kats-Chernin. A combination of technical brilliance, warmth and personality made the night a success.

The world premiere of 2017 MSO composer in residence Elena Kats-Chernin’s Big Rhap lead the program. The piece was inspired by Kats-Chernin listening to her mother play the rollercoaster of playfulness and flashiness that is Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. The spirit of Liszt was evident - Big Rhap was fun and well structured, from its dramatic start it rose in soaring heights before descending into crashing lows - the MSO’s talented percussionists clearly enjoying themselves. Big Rhap was well received and Kats-Chernin herself, resplendent in orange, came on stage to receive applause.


The break between performances added a slight jolt to the night’s proceedings as the stage was reset and the Steinway rolled on. While an unfortunate necessity it did interrupt the atmosphere created by the first piece.

Piano Concerto No.1 combines Tchaikovsky’s well-known melodies with a complicated and challenging piano part. Alexander Gavrylyuk handled these with considerable technical skill from the flamboyant opening to the famously satisfying ending - all the while looking like he was devouring something delicious. The stillness and poise of both the orchestra and the conductor during some of the piano solos was astounding. Gavrylyuk finished his performance with a touching encore of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise.

Throughout the performance twinkly-eyed conductor Bramwell Tovey seemed to cue many instruments with a smile. He took to the microphone to address the audience before the final piece of the night Petrushka, which he called Stavinksy’s most misunderstood ballet. Tovey gave Richard Gill a run for his money with charisma and wit explaining the story of the ballet and what the different instrument solos represented. The tuba solo  - a performing bear, the bassoon solo - the plodding policemen, the tambourine crashing to the ground - Petrushka’s body hitting the floor and the four drum rolls - entrance of the four different characters. This effort that was not only entertaining in itself but brought the piece to life when it was played. All music tells a story and Petrushka was made all the more poignant and brilliant for understanding a little more.

The MSO delivered another successful program showing their depth of understanding that a great performance is not only about their considerable technical skill but also the ability to portray this with warmth and humanity. 


Rating: 4 stars out of 5


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Elena Kats-Chernin: Big Rhap

Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 in B Flat Minor, Op.23

Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka - Burlesque in Four Scenes (1947 version)

Bramwell Tovey - conductor

Alexander Gavrylyuk - piano

Hamer Hall

25 May 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Andrea Gillum is a creative and professional writer. She often writes on the themes of identity and belonging. She is particularly passionate about the interaction of music, memory and place.