Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Solidarity, Comrade Shostakovich!

The ASO musicians again turned up to play in their red t-shirts ’s for the weekend’s “Triumphant Shostakovich” program at the Festival Theatre.  Presumably their salary negotiations haven’t got them very far.  At any rate the theme sat quite well with the Shostakovich piece, subtitled as it is “A Soviet artist responds to just criticism”.

If ever there was music written by someone who was composing as if their life depended on it, Shostakovich 5 would be it.  Prior to this, Stalin had reportedly canned Shostakovich’s music (hence the reference to “just criticism”!) following which some party officials and then Pravda got on his case.  In 1930’s Russia no doubt this was about one step off exile to a Siberian gulag (or worse).  We know that Shostakovich immediately shelved his 4th symphony (presumably more of the same – I’ve never heard it) and set to work on the 5th, with a clear intention of making it more “soviet”.  The fact that he lived suggests that it hit the mark, and the fact that it’s become one of very few 20th century symphonies to be amongst the standard “classics” suggests that – in the face of what must have been extraordinary pressure - he wrote something very special indeed.  So special that having heard it on Friday night I couldn’t resist going back for another helping on Saturday evening.

The rest of the program was outstanding too – a new work by local girl Anne Cawrse (terrific, especially the all too brief violin solo), followed by Bernd Glemser playing Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini.  This is of course outstanding material, wonderfully played by Glemser, although somewhat marred on the Saturday night by one of the patrons.  Towards the ends of variation 18 (the really serene one, that Rachmaninov –always alive to the commercial realities of his art - purportedly summed up with the words “this one’s for my agent”) where it goes really quiet, we were a bit bemused to hear a really faint piano echo from the back of the theatre.  We were in the front row, and the sounds seemed to come from way back – I thought it might be coming from the piano bar in the foyer, but no, it was of course a mobile phone, with a piano ringtone (my money’s on Chopin).  I had a good look a conductor Volmer’s expression as it ranged from puzzlement (an echo?) to irritation (piano bar?) to anger (mobile phone!).  That it had to ring in the quietest part of the most famous of the 24 variations was probably inevitable.  A salutary reminder to ensure that the phones are silenced and/or off (I prefer both).  Mind you, it also begs the question why the ASO is disinclined to broadcast a reminder to patrons about this before the performance – everyone’s been guilty of this in one form or other, so in my view a quick memory jog would be welcomed by almost everyone.

No comments:

There was an error in this gadget