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Carnegie Hall's New Season: Yo-Yo Ma, Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra

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Carnegie Hall kicks off its fall season Wednesday night with an all-Russian program played by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Mariinsky Orchestra led by conductor Valery Gergiev.

The musicians will start the program with Shostakovich's "Festival Overture," followed by two more Russian classics: Tchaikovsky's "Variations on a Rococo Theme" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade."

"'Scheherazade' is beautifully crafted," said Tim Page, a Pulitzer Prize-winning classical music critic and professor of music and journalism at the University of Southern California. "It's fairly conservative music, but Rimsky-Korsakov always had a real ear for orchestration."

The program — which will be performed without intermission — centers around Tchaikovsky. His "Variations on a Rococo Theme" was first performed in 1877 and is considered an homage to classicism and a challenging piece to play.

"It's quite tough on the cellist," said Page, who is the author of Carnegie Hall Treasures. "It's quite easy on the ears. It's a great showpiece for a virtuoso cellist and Yo-Yo Ma is certainly that."

Tchaikovsky was the guest of honor at Carnegie Hall's first opening night in 1891, when a five-day music festival was publicized in the 18 newspapers that flourished in New York City at the time.

"His image was all over the papers and people would cut out his image and ask him to sign the other side," said Gino Francesconi, Carnegie Hall's Museum Director and Archivist, in a video.

Fellow Russian conductor Valery Gergiev will pay homage to Tchaikovsky during Wednesday's 120th opening night.

Tim Page called Gergiev "charismatic," but also a "wild card."

"He tends to be at his very best with Russian music," he said. "He always puts on a good show."

This year's season at Carnegie Hall also features orchestras from Philadelphia, Minnesota, Budapest, and Vietnam, Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, and the young Chinese pianist Yuja Wang making her recital debut.