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With Soviet Festival Started, Here Comes The Shostakovich

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 11, 2010 6:20PM

Photo of Valery Gergiev from Mariinsky's website
We hope you like Dmitri Shostakovich as much as we do, folks, because Chicago's about to get a heavy dose of our favorite Russian composer. It will all be tied to the citywide festival "The Soviet Arts Experience," which got underway without much fanfare on October 1. You can forgive the quiet opening given that the inaugural event was a performance by the Tokyo String Quartet of music by Robert Schumann (German, died 61 years before the Bolshevik Revolution), Mozart (born in Salzburg, died almost 126 years before Soviet takeover), and the young Lera Auerbach (Russian! And she lived under Soviet rule until she was 18!).

Mariinsky Orchestra Visits Chicago
However, the Festival lurches eastward tomorrow night as Valery Gergiev and the St. Petersburg-based Mariinsky (formerly Kirov) Orchestra come to Symphony Center to begin the run of Shostakovich. The centerpiece of the program will be Shostakovich's Fifteenth (and final) Symphony, a bizarre bookend to his brilliant symphonic writing. The strangeness largely stems from the inclusion of an array of musical quotations: As with much of his music, Shostakovich includes his own initials - "DSCH," where S, or Es, is E flat and H is B in German musical spelling (which sounds like these first four notes) - and quotations from his previous work, but also, for reasons that are more or usually less discernible, Rossini's "William Tell" Overture, the Fate motif from Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle, and music of Beethoven and Mikhail Glinka. There are also other oddities, such as the light, percussion-heavy "toy shop" parts of the first movement, the inclusion of 12-tone writing (unusual for the dissonant but tonal Shostakovich), and the disturbing ending, which fades away with an unmoving chord underneath the quiet tapping of the percussion section. This was Shostakovich's last symphony, and he knew it, which makes the herky-jerky and confusing nature all the more unsettling.

The program will be balanced by pre-Soviet Russian music, the mammoth Third Piano Concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Denis Matsuev, whose reputation for technical mastery and suitably Russian bombast is fast spreading, will be the piano soloist, reprising the recording he made with Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra that was released earlier this year. Matsuev and Gergiev will be on hand after the show to sign copies of the disc.
Tomorrow at 8:00 p.m., Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, $24-$197, $10 students

Pacific Quartet's Shostakovich Cycle and Free Lecture
The biggest treat of the "Soviet Arts Experience," and also the driving force behind its inception, is the Pacifica Quartet's plans to play the entire cycle of Shostakovich's 15 string quartets. The first of five segments will be this Sunday at Roosevelt University with two separate performances of the First through Third String Quartets. If you want to learn more about the pieces, or if you just want to soak up the Shostakovich without dropping $35 on a ticket, go to Pacifica's free lecture/demonstration on Saturday at the University of Chicago.
Lecture on Saturday at 2:00 p.m., Fulton Recital Hall, 1010 E. 59th, FREE; Performances at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan, $35