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Why Tchaikovsky was a kooky kinda guy

Jolene Laverty

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Nicholas Milton AM (pictured) always ends the CSO Season with a bang, and this year Tchaikovsky is bringing the dynamite with Symphony No. 4 in F minor for the ActewAGL Llewellyn Series on November 2 and 3.

To give this piece some context, you should know that Tchaikovsky was a kooky kinda guy.

He was incredibly shy, and described his own soul as ‘queer and morbid.’ He suffered from depression and anxiety, and did not make friends easily – mostly because he didn’t like many other people, but also because of his wacky habits; like occasionally conducting with his hand on his chin so as to stop his head from falling off (which he really believed might happen.) So it’s fair to say that whilst his music was the life of the party, Tchaikovsky probably wasn’t.



Symphony No. 4 is Tchaikovsky’s dedication to his patron – a wealthy widow and mother of eleven. Despite never actually meeting in person, she was so impressed by Tchaikovsky that she paid him a yearly allowance.

That pension meant he could work less on the stuff he hated i.e – anything that involved hanging out with other people and could instead concentrate more on his composition. They had a relationship which was entirely communicated through letter writing, which was just the right kind of friendship for Tchaikovsky – so much so he referred to her as hit ‘Best Friend’.

His mood was so lifted by her generous gifts that he went into a creative flourish and wrote Symphony No. 4, which music writer Rollo H. Myers describes as his “first flush of enthusiasm for the wonderful lady whose generosity and rare sympathy and understanding were a never-failing source of inspiration and encouragement.” So you can bet it is bloody good!

Milton adds that Symphony No. 4 has one of the largest finishes of any symphonic work, which is quite something. Having seen the finish of Ode to Joy earlier this year (when the double bass players worked so hard that you could see sweat flying off them) to think that this will be BIGGER is really an exciting prospect

The final ActewAGL Llewellyn Series stars pianist Kristian Chong as the soloist for Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which Chong describes as “so much fun!”

“The seemingly simple Paganini theme is developed in so many imaginative and inspiring ways – especially in the famous 18th variation but also in almost every part of the piece is an astounding recreation of this theme. Its structure and storyline are so clear and convincing that it’s enjoyable for all!”


Kristian Chong

To begin the evening, Australian composer Nigel Westlake’s ‘Shimmering Blue’ will be performed by the CSO. ‘Shimmering Blue’ was composed by Westlake to celebrate the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s 75th anniversary, and its optimism and jubilance is a perfect way to start the final concert for the year.

Many will know Westlake’s work, which includes the soundtrack to iconic Australian films ‘Babe’ and ‘Paper Planes’, and the Renee Zellweger film ‘Miss Potter’ for which Westlake won several awards.

If you’d like to start the festive season on a high note, then please join us for the final ActewAGL Llewellyn Series on 2 and 3 November. For more information, check out our swish new website which Rowdy Digital lovingly created, pixel by pixel.

HerCanberra are proud sponsors of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s 2016 season. 


Jolene Laverty

Jolene Laverty was born and raised in Darwin, but has lived in Canberra for most of her adult life. She spent close to twenty years in radio, which took her to the copper outback of Port Augusta to the sparkling aquamarine waves of the Whitsundays. Today she is a member of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra*, ANU student, wife of a high-school teacher/rock-musician, and mother to three children who were each born in a different decade. *not allowed on stage. More about the Author

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