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Program Notes: Chan Conducts Tchaikovsky (February 5-6, 2022)


Elim Chan, conductor

Martin Grubinger, percussion

Tan Dun

The Tears of Nature (2012)

Summer (for Timpani and Orchestra)

Autumn (for Marimba and Orchestra)

Winter (for Percussion and Orchestra)

Martin Grubinger, percussion

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Symphony No. 2 in C minor, op. 17 (1872, rev. 1880)

Andante sostenuto; Allegro vivo

Andantino marziale, quasi moderato

Scherzo: Allego molto vivace

Finale: Moderato assai; Allegro vivo


Program Notes

Tan Dun

The Tears of Nature

Tan Dun

Born August 18, 1957, Changsha, China

Program note by the composer

I wrote this piece for my dear friend, a true percussion artist, Martin Grubinger. Upon conclusion of this work I made a video demonstration for Martin, sharing the methods I used to draw out the many colors of percussion, using the video to show the unique techniques such as finger flicking, rubbing, scraping, etc. While composing I thought about nature and focused on the passion of Martin Grubinger.

Nature is the only suitable illustrator for the richness of percussion sounds and instruments. Nature does not just represent four seasons in a year, it also can depict the many animals it holds such as lions or tigers, animals that can take on many forms, that can be beautiful, threatening, friendly or loving. My Percussion Concerto is divided into three movements, each one representing a different color of nature; the color of nature’s thunder, the color of nature’s passion and the color of nature’s energy—each united with the human spirit.

The first movement was prompted by my unforgettable memories and the unbearable, instantaneous loss of thousands during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. The timpani shows both the gentle and explosive power of nature. The transformation from the beginning of the movement to end employs various techniques on the timpani, from large mallets to finger flicking, symbolizes the taming of nature. This movement honors all spirits touched by the brutal force of nature in 2008.

The second movement was born as I watched the enormously heart-wrenching live broadcast of the tsunami in Japan on television. For every inhale of the tsunami waves, how many lives vanished? For every exhale, how many spirits were washed away? I believe after nature’s brutality must come nature’s regret, it’s tears. The tragedy of the tsunami is represented by a sorrowful marimba solo crying for all of the victims of the tsunami. Tremolos and cascading lines mirror the images of water in nature, nature’s tears: rain, rivers, and oceans.

The third movement comes from my awe and affection for New York City and its residents. I love New York because it does not believe in wallowing in tears. After Hurricane Sandy all of lower Manhattan and many others were without power, but New Yorkers never lost their energy and confidence. Dance of Nature uses assorted percussion instruments, all placed in a circle. Shadowing the first two movements, I bring their motives back and mix them with the new melodies introduced. The motives dance together causing the percussionist, in turn to whirl around within the circle of percussion instruments symbolizing both nature and the human spirit dancing together—reminding me of New York and its ability to keep cheerful in spirits and dance even while suffering from loss—the spirit of New York is always strong.

Although the three movements in this concerto are about three natural disasters in different cities, they all share in the same memory, one where the human spirit stays strong. This concerto commemorates human spirit as it lives, fights and dances with nature.

First performance: December 13, 2021, by the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Lübeck, Germany, the composer conducting with Martin Grubinger as soloist

First SLSO performance: This weekend's concerts

Instrumentation: solo percussion, piccolo, 2 flutes (1st doubling alto flute), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets (1st doubling piccolo trumpet), 3 trombones, tuba, harp, strings

Approximate duration: 35 minutes

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, op. 17

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Born May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia

Died November 6, 1893. Saint Petersburg, Russia

Program note by Marianne Williams Tobias

Pyotr Tchaikovsky was visiting his sister in Kamianka in Ukraine in the summer of 1872 when he began work on his Second Symphony. Influenced by Mikhail Glinka’s use of folksongs in Kamarinskaya, which he considered to be fundamental to Russian symphonic music, and folksongs he heard in that region, he inserted three into movements one, two, and four of his

Second Symphony. In order, these are “Down the Mother Volga” “Spin o My Spinner”, and “The Crane.”

Never again would he quote folksongs as extensively as he did in this work. Although the premier was a success on February 7, 1873, Tchaikovsky decided to revise the symphony in 1879, noting that “I am not completely satisfied with the first three movements….[I intend] to turn this immature and mediocre symphony into a good one.” The new version appeared in 1881, and like the first, was acclaimed.

The first movement opens with “Down the Mother Volga” sung by solo horn and echoed by bassoon. The poet Sergey Ysenin noted that this music embraces the joy and despair of the Russian character. In part, the lyrics read:

Down the Volga, Mother Volga

Over the wide sheet of water,

There arises a thunderstorm, a huge


Nothing is to be seen on the waves

There is only a small black ship…

The enormous river Volga, coursing 2,294 miles, has had deep symbolic meaning in Russian history. It has provided fertile soil in its extensive valleys, a navigable means of transportation throughout hundreds of years, sometimes described in Russian folklore as “mother, mistress, comrade, and beloved companion.” “Volga, Volga, you are our pride” is noted in the famous Volga boatman song.

The reverential folksong moves slowly and gently in the introduction. At first, Tchaikovsky keeps the formal integrity of the theme, repeating it with ever increasing complexity of accompaniment and instrumental expansion. When the Allegro section emerges, he utilizes Western techniques of symphonic development by fragmenting the idea into its smaller components which are shared by different parts of the orchestra, particularly the oboe, clarinets and bassoon before being advanced to the strings. At the close, the entire folksong, now reassembled, is stated in the solo horn and bassoon for a reflective, quiet conclusion.

Tchaikovsky’s second movement features two contrasting ideas derived from a bridal march written for his 1869 opera Undina (which never materialized). Although the composer used different themes from that score, he eventually destroyed the music. “Spin o My Spinner” emerges in an embedded rondo before the march returns at the close.

The third movement gains energy and agitation, only momentarily stopped by a small trio. The music sounds folk-like, but there is no exact quotation.

The powerful last movement features the folksong “The Crane” (Zhuravel), sung frequently by Tchaikovsky’s butler in Ukraine. The second title for this folksong was “Let the Crane soar.” A brief fanfare opens the scene before “the Crane” is displayed and developed by variations. The folktune shares the spotlight with a secondary lyrical string melody, especially in the development section, before a splendid dramatic conclusion. This movement was significantly shortened (by 150 bars) in the 1879 revision, a cut which had featured more extensive development and grandeur for the (soaring) Crane. At first, Tchaikovsky called the entire symphony “the Crane” but later erased the idea. Because of its nationalistic colorations, he dedicated this Symphony to the Moscow branch of the Russian Musical Society.

By Marianne Williams Tobias, The Marianne Williams Tobias Program Note Annotator Chair at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. © Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2017. Used by permission.

First performance: January 28, 1873, by the Russian Musical Society in Moscow, Nikolai Rubinstein conducting

First SLSO performance: December 19, 1941 Igor Stravinsky conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: April 22, 2012, Peter Oundjian conducting

Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, strings

Approximate duration: 32 minutes


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