A brotherly view of Tchaikovsky
IN A fascinating fusion of theatre and music, the Irish Chamber Orchestra come to the Town Hall Theatre with My Brother Peter, which explores the life and work of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Devised and directed by Patrick Mason, and featuring actor Bosco Hogan along with the ICO, the show captures the achievement and tragedy of a man who created some of the greatest and most instantly recognisable music ever written.
Bosco Hogan plays Modest Tchaikovsky, the composer’s brother and first biographer - a man on a mission. The gossip surrounding his brother’s marriage, sexuality, and sudden death, is out of control. Moreover, Modest’s integrity as a reliable witness has been questioned by subsequent biographers and historians. He is here to scotch the rumours, and settle the truth – but certain truths are hard to tell. He invokes his brother’s music to prove his narrative. But music tells many stories, and none.
Hogan’s consummate skill, expressive voice, and wide versatility have made him one of Ireland’s most esteemed actors over a career that has spanned 35 years.
“I’m looking forward to it immensely,” he says as he talks about My Brother Peter. “It’s a first for me, sharing a stage with an orchestra. The show covers Tchaikovsky’s life in general and tells us more about his character and the type of man he was, what he did and who he spoke to, all that kind of stuff. It’s an intimate look at what he himself was like.”
Hogan expands on the relationship between Tchaikovsky and his brother.
“Modest was the younger brother,” he says. “Peter took over the running of the family when their mother died, he was only 14 at the time. Their father had kind of withdrawn from the world.
“Peter took his duties very seriously, he took it upon himself to look after his siblings’ education, welfare, and moral formation, which was a remarkable thing to do given his own young age. Modest went on to be a playwright and novelist and he wrote an enormous two-volume biography of his brother. He was also a librettist and he collaborated with Peter on his operas, Iolanta and The Queen of Spades.”
Tchaikovksy’s death, at the age of 53, has long been the subject of debate. While the official cause of death was cholera there were those who suggested the composer may have taken his own life. It is a theory his brother did not subscribe to, as Bosco Hogan explains:
“Modest’s position about it was that Tchaikovsky did not commit suicide. There is a huge amount of speculation about his death and I suppose there always will be in the absence of categorical proof. But his brother’s contention is that that is nonsense, Peter had no reason to commit suicide and, as far as Modest was concerned, he did not do so. Modest was present when Peter became ill and he was present when he died, and he had absolutely no doubt in his mind that it was cholera which he caught from drinking a glass of infected water.”
Tchaikovsky’s ill-starred marriage has also provoked much speculation. Tchaikovsky was homosexual but it seems he was conflicted about his sexuality and decided to marry as a way of securing social respectability. He married a former student, Antonina Miliukova, but the union was a disaster and the couple separated after just two and a half months.
As it happens, Modest also was homosexual but it did not cause him the kind of turmoil which his brother experienced. As Hogan observes, “Modest was much happier in himself regarding his sexuality, he didn’t have the same angst that Peter did.”
My Brother Peter features three pieces of Tchaikovsky’s music; The fourth movement (allegro vivace) of Souvenir de Florence; ‘Serenade for Strings’ and ‘Nocturne for Cello and Strings’.
“They are absolutely beautiful pieces of music,” Hogan enthuses. “It’s sometimes said Tchaikovsky was morbid and depressive but the music contradicts that. It is joyous and expressive of a love of life, which is hard to equate with somebody who was supposedly depressed all the time. He may have had depressive moments - and which of us does not have? - but he certainly also had a love of life and a great deal of joy in his life, that must be clear from the music. And the Irish Chamber Orchestra, under conductor Katherine Hunka, deliver Tchaikovsky’s music superbly.”
Hogan goes on to relate an unlikely encounter he had while he was learning his lines for the show.
“I have a lot of learning to do in this show,” he tells me. “My normal routine is to take the dog for a walk up into the remote mountains where I can declaim away without being overheard. A couple of days ago as I was reciting my lines aloud and I stopped to see where my dog had gone and I turned around to be confronted by a beautiful deer standing just 20 feet from me. Normally you don’t get within an ass’s roar of a deer and he must have heard me coming because I was talking out loud. He must have been fascinated by the story – then when I stopped he decided to run off,” Hogan concludes with a chuckle.
My Brother Peter’s date at the Town Hall is the opening night of an eight-venue national tour and Hogan is relishing the prospect of revisiting the west.
“I love Galway and getting into the Town Hall,” he declares. “It has been a while since I last performed there and it’s a lovely venue. I think it’s going to be an entertaining show and anyone with an interest in music and the life of Tchaikovsky should certainly come along.”
My Brother Peter is at the Town Hall on Wednesday February 12. Tickets are €20 / €18 and bookings can be made at www.tht.ie and 091 - 569777.