Listening To Tchaikovsky's Heart Ache With Hershey Felder


Listen to the music of Tchaikovsky, says Hershey Felder, and you can often hear the heart ache.

That sadness is an important part of the personal story of the famed Russian composer of such masterworks as The Nutcracker Ballet and Swan Lake. And it’s one that Felder dealt with in the solo show Our Great Tchaikovsky that played recently at Hartford Stage.

“I feel for him because he suffered greatly,” says Felder, referring to the composer’s homosexuality. “I have great compassion for him. Some of his story hurts so much. He suffers and he cries in his music and we’re the beneficiaries of it.”

Felder portrays Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky as “rather kind, generous and sweet, too, though he was troubled—but not darkly troubled. He wasn’t clueless like some ‘lost’ artist,” says Felder. “He just didn’t have the luxury of being able to speak about it as we do today. And that’s a lot of this story.”

Felder notes that Russia has still to acknowledge the homosexuality of that country’s greatest composer.

Our Great Tchaikovsky is the latest of Felder’s solo shows behind a piano. Other musical portraits include Felder as Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, Frederic Chopin, and, most famously, George Gershwin in George Gershwin Alone, which he performed in 2004 at Hartford Stage. (He also presented Monsieur Chopin at Hartford Stage in 2006.)

After its record-breaking world premiere at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, the San Diego Union-Tribune called it, “A powerful, emotional experience well worth seeing.”

Felder also directed The Pianist of Willesden Lane starring virtuoso Mona Golabek. In the solo work about her mother Linda Jura, a young Jewish musician’s dreams are interrupted by the Nazi regime. That show also played Hartford Stage in 2015 as well as Westport Country Playhouse last year.