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Monday, May 7, 2012

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra captures Shostakovich's genius

Marin Alsop leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Before the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, conductor Marin Alsop provided a brief history of the piece to a spellbound audience which filled the Strathmore Symphony Hall.

According to Ms. Alsop and program notes, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was in Leningrad, the city of his birth, on the evening of June 22, 1941, where he was shaken by the news that despite an agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany, Adolph Hitler's forces had attacked his homeland.  It didn't take long for German forces to overwhelm Russia and begin bombing Leningrad.

Hitler's goal was to take down Leningrad, "the once and future St. Petersburg."

The protection of Leningrad, October 1, 1941/David Trahtenberg, Wikimedia Commons


During the onslaught, an estimated one million Leningrad citizens died, but the Russian people refused to give up their city, and Shostakovich's talents and fortitude helped them persist.

The timing of his start on the symphony is actually in dispute, according to Wikipedia, but some claim Shostakovich began the composition in July, 1941, after the German attack.  Whenever the start, he dedicated his work to the city of Leningrad which he refused to abandon. By October, Shostakovich had written three movements. 

Dimitri Shostakovich in 1942, the year the Seventh Symphony premiered/Wikimedia Commons

Under orders from the government which wanted to protect one of its most talented, Shostakovich moved with his family from Leningrad to Moscow and then to Kuibyshev, both cities which premiered the symphony the following March, after he completed it in late December. The March productions were broadcast in the Soviet Union and abroad.

Meanwhile, English and American audiences eagerly wanted to hear it, and the score was transported on microfilm by car, ship, and plane through Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and Brazil before reaching New York where orchestras competed to play the American premiere.  In a radio broadcast, Arturo Toscanini introduced it to the U.S. on July 19, 1942 with the NBC Symphony.  In the 1942-43 season, the BSO was one of 62 orchestras to play the work.  The entire composition calls for more than 100 musicians and lasts less than 90 minutes. 

Against a backdrop of quotes from Shostakovich and video of Leningrad and the initially downtrodden Russians, the BSO musicians enthusiastically played their most recent rendition.   The harsh sounds and clashes of war and its aftermath are the focus of the first movement, allegretto, lasting 28 minutes, however, the output and enjoyment of the music, despite its strident message, made it seem far shorter. 

Some have compared the movement to Ravel's Bolero to which Shostakovich replied, "That's how I hear war."

At the end and as expected, Strathmore attendees leaped immediately to their feet and gave the BS0 three encores.

Juxtaposed with Shostakovich's response to murder and political upheaval in his homeland during World War II, are the responses of another artist, Joan Miro, deeply affected by tragedies occurring at the same time in his native Spain.  On Sunday, a major exhibition of Miro's works, "The Ladder of Escape," opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the only venue in the U.S.

It is clear that the Strathmore audience adores its BSO and the confident Ms. Alsop, the first conductor to receive a MacArthur Fellow and the first woman to lead a major orchestra in the U.S.  This September she will celebrate her fifth anniversary with the BSO. 

Next up for the BSO at Strathmore is a program featuring works by another Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and an Englishman, Sir Edward Elgar.  Conductor Alsop will lead, with guest artist Andre Watts on the piano for Rachmaninoff.

When:  8 p.m., Saturday May 12, 2012

Where:  Strathmore Symphony Hall adjacent to Metro Grosvenor-Strathmore station with free parking in the Metro garage

How much:  Call 301-581-5800 at Strathmore or the BSO ticket office at 410-783-8000 or 877-BSO-1444 to see if any tickets remain since it's sold out on the Web. Update: Today (May 7) two tickets at $88/each remained for the Strathmore performance, however, $25 tickets are available if you will go to Baltimore. 

For more information: 301-581-5200

patricialeighleslie@gmail.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Russians didn't want to give up their city because Stalin would have gunned them all down had they fled. Not much choice but to stay and hope the best.