Friday, July 14, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m.
Brevard Music Center Orchestra
Keith Lockhart, conductor
Kirill Gerstein, piano
Ticket holders may attend a free Pre-Concert Talk in Thomas Hall, which begins one hour before the performance.
SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Concerto No. 2
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad"
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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102
Premiered on May 10, 1957, in Moscow conducted by Nicolai Anosov with Shostakovich’s son Maxim as soloist (it was his 19th birthday).
It must be nice to have somebody write a piano concerto just for you. It’s even nicer if that composer happens to be your father who knows your abilities and your temperament. And it seems too good to be true if that concerto was written specifically for your audition for the Moscow Conservatory. That was Maxim Shostakovich’s experience as a 19-year-old. Not surprisingly, he was accepted!
Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto was composed in 1956—at a time when the composer was still adjusting to post- Stalin Russia and its shifting political landscape. At the time, he was working on his Eleventh Symphony, subtitled “The Year 1905” (the year of the Russian Revolution). Not surprisingly, critics have drawn different conclusions about the content of this complex work. So, composing his Second Piano Concerto must have been a great joy, since for once he was just composing music without any political anything. All he had to worry about was that his son Maxim would sound great performing it.
The work has a neo-classical character, composed in a classical, Haydnesque three-movement design. Shostakovich includes stylistic references to Bach two-part inventions (in place of a traditional cadenza toward the end of the first movement), to the tender expressiveness of Rachmaninoff (second movement writing for strings and soloist), and to the humor and mischief of Prokofiev (last movement). The pedagogical value of this approach is obvious. Add in a wide variety of technical challenges, and you have the perfect audition piece.
The critics praised the work for its “charming simplicity, carefree spirit and lyrical warmth,” showing “the composer as though his own youth had returned to him.” Realizing the work’s merits beyond its intended purpose, Shostakovich made it part of his own repertoire as virtuoso pianist. When asked whose idea the Piano Concerto was, Maxim explained, “Very much mine! I kept on and on asking him to compose something for me. He didn’t for quite a while. And then suddenly, he told me he’d written the Concerto.” By the way, Maxim (who has become a conductor) has recorded “his” Piano Concerto with his own son Dmitri as soloist.
Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 60, "Leningrad"
Premiered on March 5, 1942, in Kuybïshev conducted by Samuil Samosud; the concert was broadcast nationwide.
July 19, 1942: Day 315 of the Leningrad siege. NBC broadcasts Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony across the US. Many refugees and immigrants, including Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Bartók, and Rachmaninoff were listening. While they might not have agreed on musical trends, they all realized the importance of this piece. The score, copied on microfilm, had to be sent secretly to New York by plane and car via Tehran, Cairo, and South America. While the world was aware of what was happening, they needed to hear that giving up was not an option. On June 22, the Symphony had already been broadcast from London, three months after the Moscow and Kuybïshev premieres.
Shostakovich and his family were living in Leningrad when the siege began. Against the advice of his friends and colleagues, Shostakovich decided to stay—even when members of the Philharmonic were evacuated. On September 4, 1941, the Nazis began shelling Leningrad. Two days later, Shostakovich appeared on the radio: “An hour ago I finished the score of two movements of a large symphonic composition. If I succeed in carrying it off, if I manage to complete the third and fourth movements, then perhaps I’ll be able to call it my Seventh Symphony. Why am I telling you this? So that the radio listeners who are listening to me now will know that life in our city is proceeding normally.” Of course, life was far from normal in Leningrad. Shostakovich helped dig ditches (he was kept away from the fighting) before being assigned to the firefighting brigade (again, his friends kept him from harm, realizing his symbolic status). Finally, on October 1, Shostakovich and his family were convinced to flee the city, as they were flown out to Moscow. By that point, the composer had finished the first three movements. He explained that, “I wrote my Seventh Symphony, the Leningrad, quickly. I couldn’t not write it. War was all around. I had to be together with the people, I wanted to create the image of our embattled country, to engrave it in music.”
August 9, 1942: Day 340; The Leningrad premiere. After the score had been flown in by night, copyists worked day and night to prepare the parts. Only a handful of professional musicians were still in the city, most of them barely healthy enough to play. Once enough other players were found to cover the parts, rehearsals began. Three players died of starvation before the premiere. The night of the premiere, the house was packed. The concert was broadcast over loudspeakers to the German troops camped outside the city.
- Siegwart Reichwald