If you weren't fortunate enough to get to Jones Hall to hear the Houston Symphony Orchestra this past weekend (or can't get to Carnegie Hall tonight), I feel sorry for you. Seriously, you missed out on a truly epic concert. It was a concert that made me love Shostakovich more that I already did. It made me sad to realize the classical season for the orchestra is almost over! It made super excited for all those who will be in attendance tonight at Carnegie Hall--I think they will be in for a treat.
The concert began with his Anti-Formalist Rayok, which is a piece that Shostakovich had to keep quiet about during his lifetime. He had been censured during his career (two times actually) and this was sort of a way of getting back at the ridiculous regime that had cost Shostakovich so much--his teaching posts, for example.
In this piece, Shostakovich blatantly makes fun of the stupidity of those in power, who did things like censure him and other composers. The bass vocalist acts out the part of four different people (including Stalin) and there's a chorus of supporters, singing along at times agreeing with whichever speaker it is. Bass Mikhail Svetlov was literally PERFECT in his portrayal of the four characters. He'd change hats or add glasses to represent different characters, and so smoothly went from one to the next. He was able to capture the absurdity of those people, and I couldn't help but feel so sorry for Shostakovich, for what he had to go through in his time. Imagine having your creative powers squelched by the government. It literally broke my heart, even while I was laughing at the funny performance, as Svetlov was channeling those characters so well. Add to his ability to act out and tell a story, he has a beautiful, beautiful, voice. Strong, commanding, yet never severe, it brought the words to life--a very humorous, ludicrous and sad life at times. Anti-Formalist Rayok is a GENIUS piece of music, and I promise you, if you ever see a performance of it, you'll love it. Sheer genius, as usual from Shostakovich.
The second half of the program was his Symphony no. 11, "The Year 1905), and Hans Graf and the HSO just blew this out of the water. Plain and simple, from top to bottom, beginning to end, it was stunning.
In most ways this piece is full of dread. It is awful, in the sense that it's about the Russian Revolution. In it you hear the massacre in the square (second movement) and the mourning of the deaths in the third movement. It's so visceral, so nearly tangible. It's disarming at times.
There was a point in the second movement as the orchestra was playing--it was during the "gunfire" of the massacre part, and I kept thinking to myself how terrifying this sounded. Literally, there were musical bullets flying, and to hear it nearly hurt. As unpleasant as that was, and as unpleasant it was to think of how horrifying the Revolution must have been I was thrilled and wanted more of it. I WANT an orchestra to dig deep to bring this stuff up. I want to feel a piece deep in my skin. I don't want to just say "yeah, the cellos and bases really nailed all that chromatic stuff in the beginning of the second movement". I don't care about that stuff when there's something much more significant to be had. Did the cellos and basses rock it? They did, with flying colors, but that's not want I was interested in that night.
I wanted to hear how well the Maestro Graf and the HSO could bring Shostakovich to life, and my god, did they ever! This performance made me hate communism more than I already do. This concert showed me the deep, musical maturity of this orchestra and her music director. This program made me lament about not owning more Shostakovich than I do. Are these not the signs of a great concert? I couldn't really even write any notes (which I wanted to do, I had my pen ready and everything) because I was afraid I'd miss out on something. I didn't want to miss a minute of intensity, because I felt really involved in the works, emotionally speaking.
The result of such involvement Friday night? Complete and total musical satisfaction. Whoever is at Carnegie Hall tonight is in for some seriously good music. Seriously EPIC music.
Best of luck tonight, Houston Symphony Orchestra. I'm thrilled for your guys right now!