Borishovich Jacobi (Igor Polesitsky) interrogating Tchaikovsky (Hershey
by Marco Badiani and Hershey Felder Presents)
The Melancholy Soul of ‘Tchaikovsky’:
A Cinematic Journey
By Edward Rubin
Canadian born Hershey Felder, writer, actor, playwright,
composer, and musician – piano is his forte – with some 5,000 one-man solos
shows performed around the world since 1999, is known for creating
historically accurate, and exquisitely nuanced portrayals of world-famous
Among his extensive repertoire, each of which he brings
gloriously alive reside musical greats Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy,
Rachmaninoff, Puccini, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, and Tchaikovsky.
Many of these productions are available for purchase at www.HersheyFelder.net.
Currently sitting out the plague in Florence, Italy, and itching
for live theater to reopen, the ever spirited and inventive Felder, not one to
sit around doing nothing, decided to turn his widely praised solo-performed
Tchaikovsky play – which premiered at the San Diego Repertory Theater in 2017 –
into a full-length feature film.
onset of Covid-19 darkened theaters around the world, not one to be silenced,
the ever-spirited and extremely inventive Felder, currently sitting out the
plague in Florence, Italy, decided to turn his solo-performed Tchaikovsky play
– which premiered at the San Diego Repertory Theater in 2017 – into a
full-length feature film.
result being a beautifully crafted and directed (Hershey Felder and Trevor
Hay), filmed and edited (Stefano Decarli and David Becheri), heart-felt love
letter to both Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), the man and his music, and the city of
as Tchaikovsky and a cast of 15, most making cameo appearances to flesh out the
story, the film begins with the composer’s first movement of his Suite for
Orchestra No. 1 in D Minor playing in the background, thus setting the elegiac
tone of the film.
Felder as Tchaikovsky.
The year is
1878 and the 38-year-old, grey-bearded, silver and pepper-haired composer,
having recently left St Petersburg to escape a disastrous marriage to a former
student, and to quell rumors of his homosexuality, is seen wandering along the
streets of Florence. He appears to be deep in thought.
be, given what follows that he is mentally composing a short note to his
patroness Nadezhda von Meck (1831-1894) on whose largesse he is currently living.
At home, sitting at his desk with quill pen in hand – filmed at the very
apartment where Tchaikovsky actually lived – he writes “My infinitely dearest
friend, “I cannot express to you my charm of everything that surrounds me here.
I love the character of Florence so much! And the knowledge that I am close to
you.” At finish, carefully folding the note in quarters he tentatively presses
it to his lips.
and von Meck exchanged over 1,200 letters between 1877 and 1890, but as strange
as it sounds, during their 13-year relationship, von Meck requested “that we
must never see each other face to face.” They met only once, and that
accidentally in passing. In keeping to her wishes, no words were exchanged
and a chance meeting with his patron.
film’s five-minute introductory hors d’oeuvre, we find ourselves catapulted 15
years into the future. The year is 1893 and we are at the home of Nikolai
Borishovich Jacobi (Igor Polesitsky), a Senior Public Prosecutor and
Tchaikovsky’s former classmate. The 53-year-old composer has been summoned to
his home to explain a love letter he has written to a politician’s young son.
in hand Jacobi begins his interrogation. “What is this you’ve written a filthy
little letter to and it has gotten into dangerous hands and now it’s not just
your reputation is at risk but ours and your whole family and your parents, may
they rest in peace. You know why you are here so begin at the beginning and
tell us why.” For the next hour and forty-five finely scripted minutes, with
much attention paid to Tchaikovsky’s innermost thoughts, his life is laid bare.
amplifying our experience, by cleverly matching Tchaikovsky’s music
chronologically to each event being related by the composer, is classically
trained Felder’s sumptuous piano playing. One cannot help but watch in awe as
Felder’s long-tapered fingers, gliding passionately across the keys, performing
passages from “Romeo and Juliet”, “Piano Concerto No. 1,” Symphonies No. 4
(dedicated to von Meck), 5, and 6, “The Nutcracker Suite,” and the “1812
Overture,” the latter Tchaikovsky’s least favorite composition. “It is loud and
noisy and written without warmth or love,” he would frequently declare.
highly detailed story (credited to Meghan Maiya’s extensive research) takes us
from the composer’s early years to a few days before his actual death in 1893.
What did him in is still up for grabs. Did cholera, just like his mother’s own
death, do him in? Did he commit suicide? Or was he murdered on orders from the
Czar because of his sexuality? It is a mystery that may never be solved.
Felder as Tchaikovsky
life had its share of ups and downs, and more than a few moments filled with
despair. We hear about the loss of his mother at age 14, his discovery of his
sexuality as a young boy, his days at various government schools, his
professorship at the Moscow Conservatory, his three years of working in the
Ministry of Justice, and his damnation by the more conservative and
nationalist-oriented Russian critics and composers who claimed that
Tchaikovsky, given to pampering his audiences, was void of any talent.
his wife’s continual threats to expose Tchaikovsky’s sexuality. Filled with
fear of being sent to Siberia or worse, pay her he did, this despite her living
with another man who fathered her 3 children.
of these troubling occurrences seemed to have kept the composer from churning
out 7 symphonies, 11 operas, 3 ballets, 5 suites, 3 piano concertos, a violin
concerto, 8 single movement orchestral works, 4 cantatas, 29 choral works, 3
string quartets, a string quartet, and more than 100 songs and piano pieces.
One of the
major events in Tchaikovsky’s life – though often forgotten – was his 1891 trip
to America. While he did visit Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC,
and Niagara Falls, it was in New York City at the grand opening of Music Hall
(soon to be known as Carnegie Hall) where he wowed both audience and critics
for three days running. (Critics being critics they did take note of his
“brusque and jerky bows.”)
likely, this physical awkwardness, as Tchaikovsky himself wrote, was the result
of his nine turbulent days at a sea on a steamboat where he had to endure
terrible whether, irritating fellow passengers, the theft of his wallet, and
the death of his sister just before he left Russia.
America back, Tchaikovsky wrote to his nephew Vladimir “Bob” Davidov
(1871-1906), a great love of his life, and perhaps even his lover at one point,
“I am petted, honored and entertained here in every way possible. It turns out
in America I am ten times more renowned than in Europe.” As was the case, he
returned to Russia more famous than ever.
right, with his nephew “Bob.”
One of the
film’s most moving scenes, of which there are many, comes close to the end of
the film. Here, with tears streaming down Tchaikovsky’s face, and his Symphony
No. 6 playing in the background, he delivers a painful, heart wrenching
confession to his interrogator of his deep love for his nephew.
dedicated my 6th Symphony to my beloved nephew. “I’m in love with Bob,” he says,
“because every time I look into this boy’s eyes, I can see that he understands
who I am. This symphony the entire world will want to know what it means. But
they can guess. But I know what it means. It is my conversation with this boy
who is now twenty-one years old will finally understand what his life will be
like. He may find love, but he will not be able to celebrate it because he is
like me. He will be frightened and he will feel so ashamed. So, this symphony
is his because it is who we are. We are going to end in a whisper, Noone is
going to care about us. And just like the symphony we are going to fade away.”
Little did he know that a century and a quarter later he would still be firmly
ensconced in the top ten of the world’s most famous classical composers.
Felder, as the film’s creator, producer, director, and actor is the star of
this film, hosannas also rest on the heads of Stefano Decarli and David
Becheri, whose filming and editing keeps us glued to both Felder and the
screen. Most effective is their use of sustained dissolves (layering) in which
one element is placed over another – in this case the present over the past –
so that we experience them separately and also together at the same time, thus
allowing us to experiencing Tchaikovsky’s life in a kind of all-encompassing 3D
(Tchaikovsky), Nikolai Borishovich Jacobi (Igor Polesitsky, Senior Public
Prosecutor), Helen Farrell, (Nadezdha Filaretovna von Meck), Trevor Hay (Modest
Ilyich Tchaikovsky), Antonina Ivanovna Miliukova, (Marzia Sarti), Mama
Tchaikovsky (Elia Nichols), Dario Rabitti (Young Tchaikovsky), Cosimo Francioni
(Young Kireyev), Leone Pietrek (Young Bob), Stefano Decarli (Apukhtin), (Party
Guests), Yves Besancon, Tomasso Betti, Erik Carstensen, Pierre Gerbe,Trevor
Hay, Igor Polesitsky, Jeffrey Thickman
Set: Hershey Felder.
Film Production and Live Editing: DeCarli Live Film Company, Live Broadcast and
Sound Design: Erik Carstensen, Historical Research: Meghan Maiya, Original Tchaikovsky
Costume: Abigal Gaywood, Costumes: Tedavi 98, Hair and Beard: Gherardo
Filistrucchi, Wardrobe: Isabelle Gerbe, Director of I.T: Annette Nixon, Company
Management: Samantha F. Voxakis
The good news for the
indefatigable Hershey Felder lovers is that he just released Before Fiddler, a
film in which he plays Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Aleichem, the
Ukraine-born author who wrote more than 40 volumes of stories, novels and plays
before his death in New York City in 1916. Aleichem’s most famous stories about
Tevye the milkman were turned into the 1964 Broadway musical “Fiddler on the
Roof.” Though it premiered live on February 7 it can also be accessed at