Saturday, March 28, 2009


A fine concert by the Minnesota Orchestra Friday evening, March 27. First, we were treated to an excellent performance of Franz Liszt’s Concerto No. 2 in A major. William Wolfram was the pianist.
He’s a great stylist and his authority and flexibility were amply displayed handling a piece with a wide range of emotions.

Andrew Litton conducted one of Dmitri Shostakovich’s symphonies, Number 11 in G Minor, designated Opus 103. It’s sometimes called “The Year 1905.” The conductor gave an example-punctuated explanation of the themes and structure of the piece just prior to its full and eminently capable rendition by the orchestra. There are several folk songs layered into the piece, musical themes that would be instantly recognized by the Russian people. The piece, played in one continuous movement, has interesting political baggage.

He wrote it in 1957 to memorialize a bloody massacre in St. Petersburg in the winter of 1905. A peaceful protest by Russian Peasants was torn asunder by Cossack troops. The massacre laid the foundation for the 1917 revolution which led to the overthrow of the rule of the Czar and the brief establishment of a representative democracy and the rise of what the world called Communism in Russia.

The symphony is cinematic in approach and it’s easy to “see” the scenes of unarmed peaceful protesters approaching the palace square, the alarm and the murder of hundreds of people who had gathered simply to plead with the Czar for help from starvation. The symphony was produced in 1957, the year that the USSR launched their Sputnik satellite.

The symphony has not had frequent performances in the US due in part to our perceptions of the Communist threat, to Democracy. Yet there are scholars who believe that Shostakovich was doing more than memorializing the 1905 massacre. 1957 was the year the Soviet tank battalions crushed the abortive Hungarian revolution, and many feel the composer was sending a message of chastisement over that brutal parallel.

In any case, the music is rousing, quiet, lamenting and highly emotionally evocative by turns, full of dynamic images. Not the symphony one would want to frequently hear, but like important historical events, something to be repeated from time to time and savored, both for its implied messages and for the richness of the experience. The orchestra was in full voice, responding as did the audience, to the power of the piece. Nearly every section is required to introduce or develop themes and they all responded to the challenge. It was a thrilling climax to a well-designed evening of music.

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