Thursday, November 26, 2009

Toronto Symphony - After Work Series

Dmitri Shostakovitch may have saved himself from Stalin's wrath with his Symphony No. 5.

According to Tom Allen, who introduced the After Work concert, the morning first after Symphony No. 3 debuted, an anonymous review was published in the national paper. It was rumoured Stalin himself had written it, openly speculating the third symphony's dark spirit was a subversive challenge to the spirit of the revolution. Shostakovitch actually feared he might mysteriously disappear as so many of his contemporaries. He was called in for questioning. Life became difficult.

His Symphony Number 5 may very well have saved his life: "people wept during the Largo and stood during the finale; the ovation lasted forty minutes." It was deemed politically acceptable, with a fierce march repeated throughout and a jubilant finish. It was the most popular of his symphonies in his lifetime.

I wonder what it would have been like to be in the audience for the very first performance in November 1937. I imagined the percussion was a grounding element keeping my feet solidly touching earth as my heart pounded in determination... the wind section providing the inspiration that kept me on the march.

Those Russians sure know how to keep the percussion section busy! Gongs, kettle drums, xylophone, snares, base drums - all got a serious workout. The wind section was a soaring contrast, with the score being written for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, e flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, contra bassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombone and tuba. I could almost feel the breeze, even way up high in the cheap seats.

Stephane Deneve was guest conductor, James Ehnes featured as first violinist.

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