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Thunderous, Ironic, Packed with Fireworks

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich

The New York Philharmonic This Week, hosted by Alec Baldwin

Thursdays at 8:00 PM on WFMT

 
Days before piano virtuoso Kirill Gerstein and Semyon Bychkov landed in Chicago for concerts with the CSO, they had given concerts together with the New York Philharmonic. Those October concerts of Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich are next on The New York Philharmonic This Week.

Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Rachmaninoff moved in entirely different circles. The latter emigrated to the west, and spent most of his life in exile, touring as a concert pianist instead of composing—that’s how he was able to make a living. The former remained in the Soviet Union, existing at arm’s reach of purges, pogroms, and at times as an object of Stalin’s terror. Both composers suffered for being a Russian in the early 20th century. Their music bears the scars of a troubled spirit and preoccupation with death, given voice through formidable skills as composer and orchestrator.

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Thankfully, 2013 is a much happier time to be a Russian musician; Kirill Gerstein and Semyon Bychkov are concertizing around the world. They teamed up for Russian heavyweights in New York and Chicago. Thursday’s Philharmonic broadcast includes Rachmaninoff’s dazzling showpiece, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Bychkov also conducted the Symphony No.11 by Shostakovich, a work which bears the subtitle The Year 1905.

Hungarian Revolution of 1956

Hungarian Revolution of 1956

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power to the people!

That was the outward message of Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony. But we know that Shostakovich didn’t do much that wasn’t packed with irony, farce or layers of meaning. Party leaders were pleased by the 11th Symphony; they awarded him the Lenin Prize in 1958. Those close to the composer, however, saw a different piece—it was an almost cinematic depiction of the 1905 massacre of peaceful demonstrators by tsarist troops—but didn’t it also mirror the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary? The Symphony was completed in 1957.

Pianist Kirill Gerstein sat down with WFMT’s Noel Morris during last month’s visit to Chicago. You can hear the interview in its entirety.

The New York Philharmonic This Week airs Thursdays at 8:00 PM.

 

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