Research: Conducting Shostakovich

This weekend, I am preparing to do more research next week.  I have permission to observe a Minnesota Orchestra rehearsal at Orchestra Hall in which Associate Conductor Mischa Santora will work with the orchestra on the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. 

Evan Quinn will rehearse Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 in St. Petersburg, Russia, in novel 3 which I’m working on right now.  I realized that it had been a long, long time since I’d observed a conductor rehearsing a Shostakovich symphony.  More importantly for Evan, I wanted to learn what sort of musical issues conductors work on with orchestras when rehearsing a Shostakovich symphony.  Is there anything unique to Shostakovich that I could have Evan focus on?

At this point in the first draft work on this novel, I see the rehearsal in St. Petersburg as pivotal for the story and for Evan emotionally.  It will come at the end of the second act structurally, the moment when all appears to be lost, as they say.  So, I see the Shostakovich, and Evan’s work, as a contrast as well as a complement to the moment in the story.

I’m looking forward to the rehearsal next week and am grateful for the opportunity to observe it. 


4 responses to “Research: Conducting Shostakovich

  1. Can’t recall if I sent this to you … Amazon has a CD with music from Shostakovitch: “Shostakovitch Against Stalin’. Stupidly, the Amazon information doesn’t specify what’s on the CD. The review implies that it is the “he composed while his homeland suffered under the brutal dictatorship of Josef Stalin”, but then doesn’t specify which ones these were (for those of us who really like, but don’t quite idolize him). I think this is Symphonies 4-9. Definatly includes some of his best stuff.

    I just went to see if the library has it (they don’t); however, they do have a book about the 2 men:
    “Shostakovich and Stalin : the extraordinary relationship between the great composer and the brutal dictator” Solomon Volkov

    It’s amazing what one finds … the library (i.e., Hennepin County Library) has the complete symphonies (on 2 CDs), the composer’s memoirs, and at least one CD of himself playing (#2). The joys of a great composer living in the age of recording media.

    Maybe Evan might find Shostakovich’s memoirs interesting, if he’s preparing for an important production of his work?

  2. well, not to look tooo stupid… the thing I saw on Amazon is a DVD, not a CD. It’s *about* the time he was writing those symphonies, I guess. Perhaps even more interesting than just the music, which one can obviously get in lots of places.

    His memoirs still sound interesting, though. Right after I get done with my lit-review on Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploding, and then the public policies regarding quarantining people with infectious diseases, and then … um … oh, a risk assessment for a local grocery chain. Somewhere I’ve got to actually see my children. Oh, and sleep. Though, the kids are more important than a good nights sleep – which is convenient, since I usually don’t get one, due to the boy(s).

  3. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard Shostakovitch, as well. I’m in the middle of Symphony no.8. It is certainly one of the more emphatic, perhaps even emotionally draining pieces from the early 20th C. Not just technically, but also emotionally challenging. The recording I’m listening to is from the USSR TV & Radio Symphony. One would presume a highly skilled organization. So, at the points where it suddenly seems garish and clashing, it must be intentional. I hope so. Perhaps I should listen to a different recording…? Or perhaps the composer wanted to jolt me out of a pleasant, if horrifying, experience?

    He is one of my favorite composers. A dear friend, who is an exceedingly skilled and trained musician, told me that I obviously liked the Romantics. Some how I can’t see this as “romantic” in the ordinary sense of the word. He’s much too modern to be ‘romantic’. Though, I also don’t see how someone could possibly write something ‘romantic’ in the midst of the siege of Leningrad.

    If you’ve never had a chance to listen, Benjamin Britten’s “Requiem for War” is nice. If you like this Symp. no. 8, you might also like it. If you want something sad, so very sad, yet sedate, Randall Thompson wrote an “Alleluia”, which I absolutely adore. I have a copy, if you’d like to hear it. [as my choir director related,] He was commissioned to write an Alleluia in celebration of some church’s anniversary. Obviously a nice, joyous celebratory part of the Mass. Then WWII happened. He went to finish it, and couldn’t bring himself to write something ‘traditional’. The final piece is so completely contemplative and sad, yet not depressing. Singing to the glory of god, and yet sad. We sang it once, as a trial. It left me feeling like I was happy I’d survived, but confused, then insistent, hopeful, faithful that I would one day be joyous again. Rather the sort of Alleuia I would want to have played at my funeral. I find it’s hard to explain well.

    [I hope I didn’t drone on too much. I’m struggling to get back to writing about visiting the state legislature yesterday, and unfortunately edifying experience. How in the world do we let these people manage our government?]

  4. So great to hear from a fellow lover of Shostakovich’s music!

    I have “Testimony” by Solomon Volkov, the rather controversial “memoirs” of Shostakovich — it is actually an “as told to” book, and much of Shostakovich’s music. I tend to lean toward recordings by Maxim, his conductor son, but they can be hard to find.

    The best recording for the 8th Symphony is conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky, the dedicatee. I stumbled onto it at Cheapo/Applause one day a while ago and grabbed it — the live London premiere recording with the Leningrad Philharmonic. This symphony is a reflection of the time in which it was written, during WW2, and Shostakovich’s emotional experiences of it. He stayed in Leningrad for a while during the Siege, working as a fire spotter after Nazi bombing sorties — he went up onto his apartment building roof and looked for fires — although his family had been evacuated in September, I think. He was finally ordered out of the city — unlike Americans, Russians do regard their classical music composers as national treasures and Shostakovich was beloved — and left during the winter, escaping over frozen Lake Ladoga. He spent the rest of the war with his family safe in Siberia but was not cut off from news, of course. I love the Scherzo of the 8th Symphony for its sense of running in panic, the woodwinds screaming. And I love the lonely sound of the English horn solo in the first movement.

    Shostakovich wrote some wonderful light music, also — the Jazz suites, the piano concertos, the film music. He was a good friend of Benjamin Britten’s and Peter Pears — I learned of the War Requiem because of reading of this friendship. Not familiar with the Randall Thompson piece you mentioned but it sounds like you had a good experience singing it.

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