Sunday, December 2, 2007
Last night the San Francisco symphony performed Shostakovich. The first piece, Opus 79, was "From Jewish Folk Poetry", and I thought it was awful. There was a lot of wailing and general discordance. (To give you an idea, the movements had names like "Lament for a Dead Infant", and "A Song of Poverty.") The vocalists were very talented, but I just don't have a sophisticated enough ear, I suppose, to fully appreciate clashing notes. (Bai! Bai! Bai!) The second piece was his Fifth Symphony - his most popular work, and it's easy to hear why.
Before it was performed, our conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, spent a good twenty minutes introducing the music. He explained how Shostakovich creates a feeling of despair, even with a dramatic opening, and compared it to an equally dramatic but less foreboding opening by Beethoven, breaking in his explanation just long enough to have the entire symphony orchestra play several measures of each. And compared the treatment of march music between Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, again, with just a few measures. It was a really innovative way to familiarize the audience with specific sections of what we were about to hear, and to better understand the meaning behind the music and why it was special.
I played cello and piano as a kid, and really enjoyed them both, but I never felt I was talented (or disciplined) enough to make a career out of either. It's so much fun to attend, though - all the different bits and pieces coming together to create such incredible sound. (The timpani guy had a huge role last night - how satisfying is THAT job?)
And our symphony has such a great sense of humor - last year they showed Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights" on a big screen over the stage, and the symphony performed the score below. In a couple of week's they're doing the same thing with "The Wizard of Oz" - it should be terrific!