Leonidas Kavakos extols ‘the extreme velocity’ of a Tchaikovsky masterwork

The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto has become a signature piece for Leonidas Kavakos. He just closed the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2023 summer season at Tanglewood in this work. In late September, he will return to the concerto with the San Francisco Symphony, under Esa-Pekka Salonen, and again in mid-October with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Hans Graf. 

Before that, Kavakos will join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Emeritus for Life Riccardo Muti for the annual gala Symphony Ball on Sept. 23 — in the Tchaikovsky. For the Carnegie Hall season-opening gala on Oct. 4, Kavakos will reprise the Tchaikovsky with the CSO, again under Muti.

Obviously, it’s a work close to the Greek-born violinist and conductor. In an interview recorded for the New York Philharmonic, Kavakos discussed the piece’s many virtues. Of its great musicality, he said, “The listener will go away singing several tunes from the concerto. After hearing the first theme, a smile comes on to your face, and you want to take this home with you.

“Between its themes, there is extreme velocity. Tchaikovsky had a fantastic ability to build climaxes —incredible. That is very much a part of the first movement, which is huge in its dimensions. It lasts 20 minutes. The Mendelssohn [violin] concerto, the whole concerto lasts 20 minutes. The first movement of the Tchaikovsky alone, it stands as a complete piece. As with Beethoven or Brahms, it’s full of fast notes building to a huge climax, which usually brings the house down when it’s over because the build-up is wonderful.

“It’s the mythology that the work has, from the beginning to the end, you start with an introduction, which is like an invitation to a story. You hear the story, and then you get out of the story in a triumphal way. Tchaikovsky was a master of this. There are incredible fast dialogues between the violin and the orchestra in the last movement, and it comes to a very big end.

“For so many years, it has been one of the most performed pieces, but each and every time the listener goes away taking something new and something fresh and something beautiful with them. That is what a great piece of art is all about.”

Later this season, Kavakos returns for an additional CSO engagement, this time as soloist in Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 2, under Philippe Jordan, on Nov. 16-19. He joins Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax in a Symphony Center Presents Chamber Music recital on Feb. 3.