Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shostakovich's Response

Friday night Lynette & I went to see the Utah Symphony perform a concert they called "Shostakovich's Response." It's been years since I've been to the symphony or even to a concert that is about the instrumentation and the music more than about the lyrics or the presentation.

The performance began with Mozart's Overture to Don Giovanni which is a piece I've heard before and have a lot of fun listening to. It has great energy and excitement and was a great start to the show.

After Mozart, the symphony performed Britten's Violin Concerto Op. 15 which includes some very impressive violin solo pieces. I'd never heard this before and it was very interesting. The violins were all over the place in terms of tempo and scale. Many times the violins stayed in the upper register for many bars producing an almost frantic squealing effect that really pushed the emotional level of the piece. It was an intriguing piece that generally had a lot of quick emotion rising and falling with wild crescendos. One of my favorite segments was a powerful string scale that crescendoed from its beginning with the highest notes of the violin and progressed down the scale through the violins into the cellos and finally bellowed with the basses before exploding into power with the rest of the symphony.

After a brief intermission, we were taken into Shostakovich''s Symphony #5. The first movement jumped immediately into throes of passion starting with lightly crashing symbols and quickly moving themes in both the strings and the horns. The entire symphony seemed to be playing with the balance between tension and climax. There were a lot of short, tension building themes played again and again with rising volume and force before suddenly exploding into a climactic reprieve. Rather than allowing the climax to be utterly fulfilling, the climax itself sometimes became filled with tension as it repeated its own themes with growing speed until bursting forth with yet another climax before finally settling back down.

In the "notes on the program" critics (and even Shostakovich himself) seem to view the symphony in a few different directions. Early on, Shostakovich claimed the piece as a metaphor for "the making of a man" as he progressed through the struggles of life and finally ended with an optimistic and joyful conclusion. Later he recanted slightly and says he never thought about the finale as being exultant. Instead, his comments seem to present the theme as being more of a comment on the hopelessness of life and art under Soviet rule.

Quoting Shostakovitch he says: "It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, 'your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing,' and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, 'our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.'"

Thinking back on the performance, I could feel that sense of futility in the rising and falling themes of the piece.

As I mentioned, this is the first time I've been to the symphony in years (probably since a grade school field trip). I feel bad that I've been going to school at the U for so long and this is the first time I've taken advantage of the "student pricing" deal. I've decided to take advantage of it more often while I can. It's a great deal and it's so amazing to hear powerful and moving music performed live with a full symphony.

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