Friday, March 31, 2006

Ahhhh, the Symphony

The symphony last night was spectacular. Even better than the first night. I love Shostakovich. At least what I heard last night. I don't even know how to write about the experience. But I'll give it a try, however clumsy.

The first piece was Suite No. 1 for Jazz Orchestra. It was full of whimsy! Composed around 1934, it really shows the young Shostakovich's appropriation of the new jazz form. I love the way the very composition of the piece is intertwined with the political realities of Russia at the time. In fact, all the pieces were very intimately related to the political world--and this made them all the more moving, intense, demanding of the listener. But the jazz piece, in its own way, is significant because it was composed very shortly before jazz was outlawed in Russia. So the whimsy of it is set against the backdrop of the deathly serious.

The instruments were great, too. There was a banjo, a steel slide guitar, saxophone, violin, piano, percussion (of course), and a few others.

It was terrific to have E there for this opening selection. It's ready accessibility, as well as the laughter that rippled appreciatively through the audience, was wonderful for him to experience. The harder stuff would follow soon enough.

The second piece was Violin Concerto No. 2. Like two weeks ago when we saw Sarah Chang, this piece features a virtuoso part, performed by Alexander Barantschik. But as flat as the performance was last week (I believe due to the conductor most of all), this one was vibrant, transcendent, utterly beautiful. Barantschik's part would merge and emerge through the music over and over. You could fall into the notes he played and tumble there endlessly. The rest of the orchestra was right there with him. Sometimes this sounded like they were playing right alongside him. Though others it was more as if he were critiquing them or subverting them somehow. It was really magical. I wish I could hear it again tonight.

During the intermission we walked around in the lobby area so E could stretch his legs and get some wiggles out. He really rose to the occasion last night (as I had full confidence he would) and was beautifully behaved. He had dressed up in his suit from last Easter (he loves that suit), complete with snap-on tie. And work boots. I thoroughly enjoyed the looks he was receiving as we walked around.

The last part of the program was Symphony No. 13, called Babi Yar. This one featured a baritone and the Men's Chorus. This was the most demanding piece of all--for everyone. I mean, I can imagine the musicians, performers, and conductor go home utterly spent from a performance of that piece. But also, I feel as though we were done for by the end of it, too.

It is here that the political realities of the Soviet Union are woven into the poetry and the music in ways that utterly overwhelm and disturb. It was the music of lament--and it seemed to grab us by the throat and push us against the wall.

There was a moment, at the end of the fourth movement, I guess, in the piece called "Strakhil" or "Fears" in English, that I saw the relationship between words and music in a completely new way. (Though likely rather indescribable.) The end of the piece ends with these words:

Fears are dying out in Russia.
And while I am writing these lines,
at time unintentionally hurrying,
I write haunted by the single fear
of not writing with all my strength.

There was something about hearing those words, overlaid on the notes as they were in that moment being played, that seemed to set both of them free from one another somehow. As if the words could dance anywhere along the surface of the music. I suddenly saw the words as margin notes, maybe even furiously written commentary. Somehow borne out of the music, but also the music born from the words.

Though the subject matter of this last part of the program was deeply anguished, it also played with whimsy. But whimsy in a most defiant sense. In the piece called Humor, the poet Yevtushenko writes of the ways the government is seeking to destroy humor. "They've wanted to kill humor, but humor gave them the finger."

But they cannot destoy humor because he is eternal. And "from time to time humor looks at himself humorously."

Hm. More to say about this but I have to go put icing on E's cupcakes. I need to bring them into his classroom in about 45 minutes. So I better get going.

The beginning of a fun, full weekend. Joy.

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