2006-04-09: Through a Glass Darkly Shostakovich's 15th Symphony: A Master's Legacy



Through a Glass Darkly

Shostakovich's 15th Symphony:
A Master's Legacy

Presented in conjunction with the Seattle Symphony's
Shostakovich Uncovered: A Shostakovich Festival

The Seattle Chamber Players
With special guest Oleg Malov, piano

Pavel Karmanov: Get In!! (US Premiere), with the composer present

Sofia Gubaidulina: Quartet for Four Flutes

Alissa Firsova: Celebration (World Premiere), with the composer present

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15 Arranged by Derevianko

Pre-Concert recital at 6pm by pianist Oleg Malov
Shostakovich’s Piano Music

Shostakovich: Aphorisms
Shostakovich: Piano Sonata No. 2

Post-Concert Inside-Out

Join SCP musicians, guest artists and composers
for a post-concert discussion.

Oleg Malov, Piano

Oleg Malov was born in Nizhni Novgorod, Russia. In 1965 he graduated from a music college in Novosibirsk. In 1965-1972 he studied at the St. Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory. After graduating from its post-graduate department Malov began teaching there on the piano faculty, where he is now professor of piano performance.

Malov has performed as a soloist in many cities of Russia and former Soviet Union. His repertoire embraces works of more than a hundred composers, more than half of whom are contemporary Russian and former Soviet composers.

Malov regularly participates as a soloist, chamber musician and conductor at the most prestigious festivals of contemporary music throughout Europe, including those in Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg, Switzerland. He has recorded 10 LPs on Melodia label and about 20 CDs on Pentagon, Megadisc, IMA Records, EMC and other labels.

Malov has held numerous master-classes and workshops at the universities and music conservatories in Russia, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, Korea and Germany. Malov is specifically known for his accomplished performances of works by Shostakovich and his student Galina Ustvolskaya, as well as other composers from St. Petersburg.



by Dr. Elena Dubinets

Through a Glass Darkly
Shostakovich's 15th Symphony: A Master's Legacy

Get In!! (2005) (U.S. Premiere, SCP commission)

A graduate of the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory's composition department,Pavel Karmanov is one of today's most popular composers for Russian television and cinema. His music has been performed in all of the main concert halls in Moscow and in many other Russian and European cities by the most renowned ensembles and orchestras. Among the soloists who have performed his works are Yuri Bashmet, Alexei Lubimov, Nazar Kozhuhar, Alexei Goribol, and others. Karmanov's music has been heard at the Warsaw Autumn festival, the Festival in Memory of Oleg Kagan (Moscow 1992), the Moscow Autumn festivals, Dialog (Moscow 1996), the Alternativa festivals, the International Musical Biennal in Zagreb, Croatia (1994), and other festivals.

Karmanov's bright tonal language, laconic formal structure, and skillfully created impressionistic color appeal to many music lovers as signs of a post-modern and post-minimalist approach to composition. His music is very dynamic and filled with neatly organized rhythmic interplay within a rock music-based pulsation.

Karmanov's works are among the best known representatives of Russian minimalism, yet the genesis of this style differs from its American prototype. Both the American minimalists and their Russian counterparts limit their music by means of simple elements. However the "purity" and dissolution from traditional associations, which are the most important features of American minimalism, are darkened in Russian minimalism by means of semantic connections, meaningful allusions, and depth of substance. In Russian minimalist compositions, there are often distinct structures (contrary to the idea of minimalist open forms) and even some traditional building blocks, including simple tonal and harmonic relationships, beautiful melodic patterns, the use of stylistic resemblances, and bright images. The minimalist music of Russia is thus a very poetic and meaningful means to experience ideas, and Karmanov's works embrace its best qualities.

Get In!! was written as a kind of welcome to the world for the birth of the composer's son, Makar. The piece was premiered by the SCP at the Warsaw Autumn festival in September 2005 and is now receiving its U.S. premiere. It is a post-minimalist composition with soft but dexterous rhythmic interaction between clear melodic lines in different voices, which are playfully combined into a rich texture evoking some baroque reminiscences and calling up a dream-like aura.

Quartet for Four Flutes (1977)

Sofia Gubaidulina studied composition at the Kazan and the Moscow Conservatories and lived in Moscow until 1992. Since then, she has lived in Germany, outside Hamburg. Gubaidulina's compositional approach has been stimulated by her interest in explorations of Russian, Caucasian, and Asian folk music as well as by her in-depth penetration of contemporary Western musical techniques and a deeply rooted belief in the mystical properties of music. She has been combining all of these components in her extremely warm and humanistic compositions, exploring new ways of developing drama and tension as well as unconventional techniques of sound production. Since the early 1980s, when Gidon Kremer began promoting her music in the West and when she was first allowed to travel to the West, Gubaidulina has established a unique and respected stature in the world of contemporary music. Along with Schnittke, Denisov, and Valentin Sylvestrov, she is now considered to be one of the most original and powerful representatives of the new music of the former Soviet Union and of the world as a whole.

Gubaidulina has received the Prix de Monaco (1987), the Premio Franco Abbiato (1991), the Heidelberger Künstlerinnenpreis (1991), the Russian State Prize (1992), the SpohrPreis (1995), the Praemium Imperiale in Japan (1998), the Sonning Prize in Denmark (1999), the Polar Music Prize in Sweden (2002), the Great Distinguished Service Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2002), and the Living Composer Prize of the Cannes Classical Awards (2003). In 2004, she was elected as a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The piece on today's program is written for four instruments of a similar high range (slightly lowered, however, by including alto flutes). Different dramatic and quasi-conversational effects are created here exclusively by means of new sound production techniques, timbre and dynamic nuances, and the rhythmic and textural interrelations between the four soloists. This five-movement cycle evolves from discrete and pointillistic sounds in the opening section through heterophonic constellations and multiphonic and microtonal developments; it reaches a continual linear, almost melodic polyphony in the last movement, with its shrill climax in the high register, followed by the trills going down in glissandi to a final soliloquy by a lonely alto flute.

Celebration (2006) (World Premiere, SCP commission)

Alissa Firsova belongs to a prolific musical family; her parents, Elena Firsova and Dmitri Smirnov, are well-known Russian composers of the post-Schnittke generation. She was born in Moscow and moved to England with her family in 1991. In 1999 she was awarded a full scholarship to the Purcell School to study piano and composition. In 2001 Firsova won the BBC/Guardian/Proms Young Composer Competition, following workshops with Leonard Slatkin and Mark-Anthony Turnage, with a Radio 3 broadcast of the winning piano piece, Les Pavots, performed by the composer. She has won a scholarship to study at the Dartington Summer School and has received commissions from ABRSM, the 8u8 ensemble of St. Petersburg, and the Dartington Summer School. As a pianist, Firsova has recorded on the Megadisc label and has performed at the Duke's Hall (Royal Academy), the Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Wigmore Hall, Cumiana Castle (Torino), Goldsmith's College, and the Oxford and Cheltenham festivals.

Since 2004, she has been studying at the Royal Academy of Music under Hamish Milne. The composer shared her comments about Celebration, which was commissioned by the Seattle Chamber Players:

"When I was asked to write this piece in memory of Shostakovich, I asked myself, what is my favorite moment in Shostakovich's music? My answer was: the last two pages of his Symphony No. 8 in C — I love them for their genius in simplicity. I based my piece on this coda of the Eighth Symphony. I liked the idea of starting a piece with the ending of another piece. Even though I had only four instruments to work with, they perfectly fit with Shostakovich's orchestration, and I kept the opening of my piece as close as possible to the original.

It opens with a high pitched violin solo and then creates the C-major harmonic background for the pizzicato in the cello, which is a three-note motif, with the flute accentuating each chord. The solo clarinet enters with a lyrical melody, which I created from Shostakovich's harmonic background. This is the main theme of the work. The other instruments imitate the theme as they all play in counterpoint. Suddenly the cello comes in with a different theme taken from the last movement of the symphony, which is also based on the three-note motif. It is also imitated by all of the instruments in a very energetic manner. The three-note motif becomes a texture, and it develops until the climax of the piece is reached, where the theme is majestically restated and the clarinet plays extremely virtuosic passagework. Following the climax, we hear a lamenting clarinet cadenza, which is then joined by the violin with the material from its opening solo. The piece gradually simmers down using material from the opening."

Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141 (1971)
Arranged for string trio and percussion by Victor Derevianko
Aphorisms, Op. 13 (1927)
Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 61 (1943)

The composer did not leave a program for this, his final work in the symphonic genre, but the work's almost theatrical images and the ways in which they are interrelated suggest a hidden "plot" which musicologists have long attempted to decode. Shostakovich described the first movement as a metaphor of childhood, comparing it to a "toy store." The initial "jumping" motif of the first movement as well as the galop from Rossini's William Tell overture compellingly convey an image of childhood, with its bells and drums, with student exercises in academic musical forms (the fugue in the development section, for example), and with tricks with dodecaphonic and other extravagant sounds, which in the end give way to tonal concerns. This mosaic of stylistic and tonal/atonal interplay continues in the other movements. In the opening of the second, slow, movement, for example, the expressive twelve-tone cello statement replies to a strict tonal chorale. The third movement opens with symmetrical twelve-tone phrases, which are contradicted by characteristic components of Shostakovich's style (including the transposed DSCH motive, his music monogram). In the finale, the "fate" motive from Wagner's Ring cycle and the transposed BACH monogram add tension to this dispute, which concludes with a coda offering faint reminiscences of many previously heard statements from this musical discussion. The long concluding A-major chord, resting upon a contrapuntal peal by the percussion, resembles the inexorable striking of a clock symbolizing time implacably passing away.

Tonight you will hear a rarely performed chamber version of the symphony. The arranger, the well-known Russian pianist Victor Derevianko, recalls the creation of this arrangement:

"I first became acquainted with the Fifteenth Symphony a couple of months before its premiere. In Soviet Russia all composers, including the world-famous Shostakovich and Prokofiev, were obliged to present their new compositions to the Union of Composers, where their colleagues and the musical ideologues had to approve and authorize public performance. My colleague, the pianist Mikhail Muntian, and I were invited to perform the symphony in a transcription by the composer for two pianos before this exalted gathering. The symphony was approved, and in January 1972 it was given its premiere. After getting to know the music so spontaneously, and then hearing it in concert, a strange idea came to me - to transcribe the symphony for a chamber ensemble consisting of piano trio with percussion and celesta… to my surprise and happiness, Shostakovich approved wholeheartedly of the transcription."

The piano soloist in this symphony, Oleg Malov, will also perform two of Shostakovich's solo piano works at the pre-concert recital, embracing a spectrum of Shostakovich's piano writing: a suite of brief and funny Aphorisms, a fine example of Shostakovich's early style in which the composer intentionally reversed some traditions of genre (ending the Funeral March with a brave C-major triad, for example, or assigning the name Legend to a dissonant perpetuum mobile); and the Piano Sonata No. 2, dedicated to the memory of Shostakovich's piano teacher, Leonid Nikolaev (who also taught Maria Yudina and Vladimir Sofronitsky). The semantic center of this large work is its final, third, movement, written in the form of variations recalling Beethoven's variation cycles.