Lahav Shani, the IPO’s Music Director Designate, returns to play with and conduct the orchestra, along with Leonidas Kavakos, one of the world’s leading violinists, in a particularly varied program.
The year is 1957. Dmitri Shostakovich is already a well-known and highly regarded composer. He is also the father of Maxim, a talented pianist who is celebrating his 19th birthday. Shostakovich decides to write a piano concerto for his son. A short work (just under 20 minutes) in three parts, it is one of the most delightful, joyous, energetic and amusing works written by the composer.
What led Shostakovich to write such music? Was it the end of Stalinism? Does this music reflect the love and hope that Shostakovich wanted to pass on to his son? Is this joy personal or national, or perhaps there is no joy at all but only fast, slow, and fast music, compelling and effective, as this composer knew to write? Presumably, there is no single answer to these questions.
This is one of the most communicative works in Shostakovich’s repertoire, and some have noted echoes from the period in which the composer made a living by accompanying silent films in the cinema. Perhaps it suited Disney’s directors to use a segment of this concerto in the Steadfast Tin Soldier scene from the film “Fantasy 2000,” creating the closure of a beautiful circle.
There is a clear rhythmic element in the first and third movements of the concerto. In the first movement, flutes (and piccolo) and drums (mainly the marching drum) are supported by symmetrical, clear, seemingly simple phrases that are characterized by virtuosity and freedom from conflict, and yet this is not naive music but rather music by a wise composer about reality. But it is also music that describes how in a flash happiness can turn into a fascist parade (as demonstrated in special moments in the first movement).
As for the aesthetics of this concerto, we ask whether it reflects the way Shostakovich perceives youth. (Oh, longing for a time where age 19 symbolizes carefree life…)? Or there is a more complex musical statement in which there is the possibility, this time in the context of a piano concerto, to present the composer’s perception of the orchestra, the classical form, and what piano concertos after Bartok, Ravel and young Rachmaninov can be. Perhaps the conscious dialogue and reflections on the history of this genre begin even in earlier correspondence? For example, in the second movement of the piece, in which a gentle lyrical accompaniment allows the vocalist to create a line reminiscent of a wonderful vocalization without slipping into sentimentalism. Is it possible to see in the accompaniment of the strings in this movement as a kind of “updated” nod to the second movement of Beethoven’s last concertos? The nature of such associations is that they are very personal. But something in the atmosphere of this movement certainly evokes memories.
The last movement in this concerto seems to have been heard before, in other works by Shostakovich, but who said that personal style is a bad thing?
The work was first performed by the young Maxim on May 10, 1957.
What can you say about Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony that has not yet been said (many times)? It was written at a time when Tchaikovsky’s professional success was a fait accompli. The opera Eugene Onegin, the Third Piano Concerto in A Minor, the Violin Concerto, and the Fourth Symphony were great musical success that did not manage to make the composer happier. With all his “ordinary” burdens, which were the result of a complex personal life (and apparently of repressed sexual orientation), the fear of his ability to maintain the quality of his own early works was profound. The fear of the “muse’s escape,” and the responsibility and expectations that come with deep success. In the days before social networking, people wrote letters, and those by Tchaikovsky, who were addressed to his benefactor N. Von Meck, reported on the difficulties he experienced at the beginning of this symphony and the happiness that enabled him to complete the work in a way that satisfied him. Among the less important facts that emerge from this correspondence: it turns out that he found a hobby for retirement, horticulture and flowering.
Beyond the story behind the writing of the piece, here are a few elements that one might notice while listening.
In general, this concert will be a interesting opportunity to find the hidden links connecting Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. Will the performance lead to a better understanding of “Russian” music?
Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra by Shostakovich
Opus numbers have always been a complicated issue. In many cases it was not the composers who noted the numbers of their works and the order in which they were written, and debates about the accuracy of the lists by Ludwig von Köchel (Mozart), Otto Erich Deutsch (Schubert) and John Kirkpatrick (Ives). In the realm of opus numbers, the first violin concerto of Shostakovich, which the composer himself gave two opus numbers (77 and 99), is striking.
The story of the two opuses of this concerto opens yet another glimpse into the nightmare in which Dmitry Shostakovich worked for many years.
In February 1948, Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s abhorred Secretary of Culture, issued a scathing statement aimed at Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and several other composers, accusing them of “formalism,” the harshest condemnation that the Soviet regime used to accuse dissenters. (Zhdanov himself died about six months after the publication of this announcement.) Only five years later, with the death of Stalin, the cloud over the heads of the Soviet musicians was somewhat lifted. When the announcement of the condemnation was published, Shostakovich was in the process of composing the Violin Concerto and gave the work the opus number 77, but he decided to put it aside and save the premiere for a more convenient period, which came with the death of Stalin. Shostakovich returned to the concerto in 1955, edited the score and made a few corrections. David Oistrakh performed the work at the premiere on October 29 in Leningrad (he, incidentally, elaborated on the difficulty this piece poses to the soloist and called the third movement “satanic”). And when it was published, around the time of the first performance, it was given an opus number reflecting its place on the continuum of Shostakovich’s works (99). It was only in the last years of his life that the composer decided to attach the original opus to his concerto, allowing anyone who wanted to see the fate and life of a composer in Russia during the last century. This wide-ranging concerto (about 35 minutes) consists of four movements and shows Shostakovich’s ability to write wonderful melodic music. Critics and violinists mention this concerto also because of the over-sized cadenza that connects the third and fourth movements.
Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz
There are few composers and few works that cast a shadow on artists as large as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The feeling that everything that can be said in the genre of the symphony has already been said in this work influenced the symphonic thought of many composers. Who would have believed that Brahms or Schumann or Schubert were terrified from a large symphony that had been written before them?
A crazy and “different” kind of man, like Berlioz, was needed to bring a new attitude to the symphonic genre. A composer that was not a wunderkind and did not play piano (Berlioz’s instrument was guitar), someone who learned medicine at the command of his father, who was a doctor and atheist (unlike his mother who was a strict catholic). These were the circumstances necessary to write this work in his twenties, which broke all the borders that existed until then. It was written for a monstrous orchestra in terms of the period of composition (Two tubas? Who heard of such a thing before this?) It came with an extra-musical narrative, with explicit hints appearing within the score, a story that includes, among other things, the image of the sensitive artist and of different and rather disturbed visions that he experienced. This is a work that has meticulous thematic elements and is almost a “school for orchestration.” A work that went beyond the boundaries of the symphonic genre as designed by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven and preceded Wagner, the symphonic poems of Liszt and Strauss, and Mahler’s extensive symphonic writing. And to think that all this happened less than four years after Beethoven’s death!
Get to know the man (Berlioz) and his world with a few quotes:
Jerusalem Sketches – Rhapsody for Orchestra by Shimon Cohen
I composed this work in 1981, by commission of Leonard Bernstein, for the inauguration of the Sultan Pool in Jerusalem. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Doron Salomon, performed it at that event.
Jerusalem is the heart of the world, and just as the heart combines into four sections there are four quarters in Jerusalem: the Jewish, the Muslim, the Armenian and the Christian.
The work is written in rhapsodic form, with four movements connected like a thread, with each quarter depicted by its own characteristic music.
Jerusalem Sketches opens with a motif played by the bassoon. In the background one can hear formulas of Jewish prayers. Everything awakens gradually. The idyll is interrupted by the tuba, with a melody of the Muezzin calling for the daily prayer.
From here we continue to the Muslim quarter – to the market. The eastern market is revealed in full glory, with stark colors, Arabian melodies that rise and sweep the listener in their enthusiasm, and lead us straight into the Armenian quarter, which is presented by Armenian folk melodies.
The church bells and Christian prayer, “Praise God, from all blessing flow”, played by the organ depict the Christian quarter. Melodies that appeared throughout the work gradually begin to form into a fugue, which intensifies and brings the work to an impressive conclusion.
(“Open to me, my sister, my darling…My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.”– Song of Songs 5, 2). Dewdrops accumulated in the curls of the beloved uncle in the Song of Songs, an expression of hidden divine wealth waiting to be revealed at the time of redemption. But in the harsh reality of exile, redemption is only a distant hope, therefore reality is “Fragments of the Night” in another sense – in the sense of fragments and pieces of being in the night of exile.
Out of the Dark by Daniel Shalit
The work is based on a Chabad melody, a melody of yearning for redemption, a melody of introverted solitude without words, that was sketched by the composer as he heard it from the mouth of the late Rabbi Eliah Rivkin. Rabbi Eliah kept dozens of old Chabad tunes in his memory. He survived the Holocaust when he was sent to study in a Yeshiva in England, and these melodies were saved along with him.
The theme is a wonderful, primal melody. Four variations develop around the two-part theme. First variation: Night, with memories of the past. Second variation: wandering and screaming. Third variation: comfort and hope. Fourth variation: Songs of hope amid the background of the difficult present.
The work was recorded this year with the London Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Simca Heled.