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St Giles Orchestra premieres Tchaikovsky symphony

May 2003

St Giles Orchestra is about to give what it believes will be the first amateur performance of a rarely heard Tchaikovsky symphony in the UK. Not only did Tchaikovsky write six numbered symphonies and another entitled 'Manfred', but he started work in 1892 on a Symphony in E flat. Finding the work troublesome to compose, he decided to scrap it, even going as far as to state that he had destroyed the sketches. But the sketches were not destroyed, and they were discovered many years later by the Russian musicologist and composer Semyon Bogatyryev, who reconstructed the work from the sketches in the 1950s.

Geoffrey Bushell, St Giles Orchestra's conductor and musical director explains: "When looking to hire a set of parts for the symphony, we first searched a database of all orchestral music in UK lending libraries, and found that there was only one set. When we received the set of orchestral parts of this symphony from Liverpool Library, we noticed that it was in mint condition, with no marks of any kind in either score or parts, and had obviously never been played. The library had acquired the set in 1963, only two years after The State Music Publishers in Moscow published the full score. I was also told by John Koelsch, a Tchaikovsky enthusiast living in Wells, Nevada, USA (who had noticed the concert advertised on our website) that the first western performance was in 1962. This combination of circumstances made us think that perhaps we were about to give the first amateur performance in the UK, all of 46 years after the first performance." Geoffrey then contacted Brett Langston, biographer of Tchaikovsky and author of the two-volume Tchaikovsky Handbook, to see if any other performances were known. Brett replied "The symphony has been professionally performed by The BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2002 and by the Ulster Orchestra in the 1990s, but those are the only other British performances I know of. Because the work is so rarely heard, there must be a very good chance that your performance will be the first by an amateur orchestra in this country!"

So the St Giles Orchestra concert on Saturday 5 July (7.30 pm in St Andrews Church, Linton Road, Oxford looks like being a very special occasion. Geoffrey Bushell adds: "We like to introduce our audiences to unfamiliar works, and although they may not know the work, they nearly always say to me afterwards that they enjoyed it because it has a good tune." There are certainly plenty of tunes in the symphony, and its style is recognisably Tchaikovsky. So why not go along and listen to this unique event - it may be another 46 years before the next opportunity!

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