Ann Arbor Weather:
Sunday October 24, 2021
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed
Shostakovich symphonies

Shostakovich symphonies

Gergiev, the Kirov, and the 20th century

by James Leonard

From the March, 2006 issue

The symphonies of Dmitry Shostakovich, the former Soviet Union's most celebrated composer, are the best of the twentieth century. From his First Symphony in 1925 through the Fifteenth and final symphony of 1971, Shostakovich kept on boring deeper into the bedrock of existential dread. He became internationally famous the night of his First Symphony's premiere, and while his later years had their ups and downs - a hero of the people one day and a nonperson facing possible liquidation the next - the end of his life was a total downer: an atheist crippled by disease, he was confronting his mortality in a totalitarian state that had the power and potentially the inclination to annihilate his posthumous memory. From before he wrote the incidental music for Hamlet in 1932 until after he wrote a film score for King Lear in 1970, Shostakovich presented himself in his music as a combination ironic hero and mad king's fool, a two-faced mask meant to hide his own acute case of bad nerves.

When Shostakovich died in 1975, the USSR still had another sixteen years to go, but its soul was already dead, and Shostakovich's symphonies are in effect its musical epitaph. The First Symphony is an ironic tragedy, the Second and Third are Bolshevik triumphs set to music, and the Fourth and Fifth are Communist tragedies. The Sixth through Ninth are the chapters of a musical Soviet Realist War and Peace, while the Tenth is King Lear set in the Kremlin, with Stalin as the mad king and the composer as his fool. The Eleventh and Twelfth are political dissidence disguised as state propaganda, the Thirteenth offers symphonic protest songs of bitterness and brutality, and the Fourteenth sends orchestral suicide notes of nihilism and despair. Finally, the Fifteenth is the sound of the ghosts of great symphonists howling in the face of the void.

Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra will perform five of Shostakovich's symphonies in two concerts

...continued below...

at Hill Auditorium in March: the First, Second, and Tenth on Friday, March 17, and the Ninth and Seventh on Sunday, March 19. These are the first two of five Gergiev-Kirov concerts the University Musical Society is presenting over six months, with the remaining ten symphonies scheduled for three concerts that open the 2006-2007 season. Unrelentingly passionate and unerringly dramatic, Valery Gergiev is without doubt Russia's leading conductor. Incredibly virtuosic and unbelievably dedicated, the Kirov Orchestra is Russia's finest orchestra. This is the most impressive and significant series the UMS has presented since the Borodin Quartet performed Shostakovich's complete string quartets here a decade ago.

[Review published March 2006]     (end of article)


Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Subscribe to the Ann Arbor Observer
Fine Finishes in Middle-Class Neighborhoods
August 2021 Home Sales Map
Sue Maguire
Restaurants with Military Discount
A clickable zoomable map
Body, Mind, & Spirit
Writing Coach
When Adam Was spent the biggest game of the season on the bench, he was "hurt and confused."
Jan Schlain
Jimmy Hoffa at the Law Quad
After Bobby Kennedy castigated the Teamsters' leader, students snuck him in the window.
Donnelly Wright Hadden
Huron River Renaissance
Ann Arbor rediscovers its river
Grace Shackman
Back to School 2021
The public schools and the U-M are fully reopening. What will that look like-and will it be safe?
James Leonard and Jan Schlain
Fatal Fungus
"It is awful," says Heidi Frei of how the oak wilt fungus has affected the Green Lake Campground.
James Leonard
Out-of-Town Radio
a2view the Ann Arbor Observer's weekly email newsletter