Tchaikovsky: Notes & Letters

  • Friday 16th November 2018

  • Guildhall Art Gallery & Roman Amphitheatre

On 16th November 2018 we presented a unique evening of entertainment exploring the life of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky through his music and writings.

Held at the Guildhall Art Gallery, in the heart of the City of London, the event fell into two halves. After enjoying Russian-themed cocktails served on arrival, guests were treated to an electric performance of Tchaikovsky’s string sextet Souvenir de Florence by an ensemble of CMF Artists: Emily Sun (violin – 2018 CMF Artist), Christopher Jones (violin – Gildas Quartet, 2015 CMF Artists), Kay Stephen (viola – Gildas Quartet, 2015 CMF Artists), Lucy Nolan (viola – Eblana String Trio, 2017 CMF Artists), Ariana Kashefi (cello – 2018 CMF Artist), and Peggy Nolan (cello – Eblana String Trio, 2017 CMF Artists).

Tchaikovsky visited Florence many times, often staying with his long-term patron Nadezhda von Meck, and the first flashes of Souvenir de Florence were probably sketched during his final first visit in early 1890. Completing it later that year, he extensively revised the third and fourth movements after an initial private hearing. The resulting work we know today was premiered on 6th December 1892, less than a year before his death.

During the interval, guests were ushered downstairs, beneath the gallery, to enjoy further drinks and canapés within a piece of London’s hidden history. Several floors beneath the Guildhall Art Gallery lie the remains of a Roman Amphitheatre, which is thought to have been built in c. 75 AD. Château du Galoupet wine was served with Russian-themed canapés created by Mosimann’s.

The second half was the title event – Tchaikovsky: Notes & Letters – a never-before-seen entertainment performed by three of our illustrious patrons, actor Simon Callow, soprano Joan Rodgers, and pianist Roger Vignoles, as well as mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston (2018 CMF Artist).

This tapestry of music and words, woven together by Joan Rodgers, offered a chronological picture of the whole Tchaikovsky, from legal clerk to world-famous composer and everything in between: losing his mother aged fourteen, visiting London, fully committing to music, falling in love with women, falling in love with men, getting married, confronting his sexuality, etc.

Amongst a string of anecdotes and extracts from his many letters read by Simon Callow, Joan Rodgers and Helen Charlston performed a selection of Tchaikovsky’s songs and arias in turn, joining for a duet from Eugene Onegin just before the end. They were accompanied by Roger Vignoles, who also performed two solo piano pieces (see programme below for full music list).


Here are some of the comments from the guests and performers:

“The sextet were brilliant! Their interplay, sensitivity and sheer excellence were a real treat. None of us had ever heard that piece [Souvenir de Florence]. Wow!”

“…spectacular evening of Tchaikovsky’s music… with the extra marvel of Helen Charlston… we left with a much expanded appreciation of Tchaikovsky’s life”

“Roger V and I sat side by side and almost hugged each other with pleasure at the end…” (Simon Callow on the performance of Souvenir de Florence)

“What a good cause CMF is, and how pleased and proud you must be of its progress. Congratulations!”

“What a splendid and imaginative evening. We enjoyed it so much and I don’t think anyone else could have done it.”


For more information about Tchaikovsky’s life, his letters, and the programme, you can view the event programme: cropped_a5-tchaik-prog-FINAL-12.11.18

Audience member

We enjoyed it so much and I don’t think anyone else could have done it.

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