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Houston Symphony Presents Pathétique a.k.a. Music to Listen to When You Might Be About to Die

Pianist Ingrid Fliter performs Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Tchaikovsky's Pathétique with the Houston Symphony and guest conductor Fabien Gabel.
Pianist Ingrid Fliter performs Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Tchaikovsky's Pathétique with the Houston Symphony and guest conductor Fabien Gabel.
Courtesy of Houston Symphony
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A scenario: You’re about to die very soon, whether you know it or not. What does the music sound like?

It might sound like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, Pathétique.

Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of Pathétique in October 1893, and died nine days later under circumstances that have never been verified. Tchaikovsky reportedly died from cholera as a result of drinking contaminated water. Whether he drank the poison water on purpose or by accident is something that hasn’t been and may never be resolved.

“It’s melancholy and tragic,” Quebec Symphony Orchestra music director Fabien Gabel says about Pathétique. “Tchaikovsky had some difficulties coming up with the name of the piece. He wanted to call it Tragique, but his brother suggested that he should use Pathétique. The finale, an adagio, was very disturbing to the audience at the time. It’s heartbreaking.”

It’s also beautiful and one of the most famous symphonies ever, according to Gabel, who will conduct the Houston Symphony in a concert that also features Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter.

The evening’s program begins with two lighter pieces by the master Felix Mendelssohn. The Hebrides and Piano Concerto No. 1 were inspired by the German composer’s explorations of Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish island of Staffa and of Italy, respectively.

Pathétique happens after an intermission. Fliter, one of the only women to win a big-deal, piano-centric Gilmore Artist Award, will crush souls even harder with her talent, which has taken her to concert halls all over North America and Europe.

The concert is also a first-time collaboration for Gabel and Fliter, who are both established and heavy-hitting presences in classical music. “She’s a fantastic player,” says Gabel. “It’s going to be a discovery for me. It’s always interesting to work with someone famous and talented.”

The Houston Symphony, with Fabien Gabel and Ingrid Fliter, presents the works of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 9 and Saturday, March 11, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. Tickets cost $25 to $136. For more information, call 713-224-7575 or check out houstonsymphony.org.

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