To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Dimitri Shostakovich's birth (1906-1975), the Symphony played an all-Shosty program with an all Russian guest list. The connection between Shostakovich and Rostropovich goes much deeper than just nationality: Rostro was a student of Shostakovich and a friend, and we'd say a muse too, but it makes it sounds totally like not what it was. Anyhow, they hung out together, Shostakovich wrotes some pieces just for his buddy, who then premiered, for instance, the two cello concertos as the soloist. Nowadays, Rostropovich still plays the cello, but he mostly conducts, turning a spry 79yo this year.
And what a pleasure it was to have him conduct the orchestra. We'll skip talking about the first piece, the Festive Overture, from 1954. It was a bombastic little marching piece, brasses a-blaring both on stage and up on the side terraces behind the stage. We felt really bad for the guys up there with a horn wailing in their ear: did their hearing recover in time to enjoy the rest of the show, or did they go deaf for the rest of the evening? This is the Shostakovich that we do not appreciate particularly: writing in a neo-classical style which some would call post-Stalinist. They'd be historically accurate, but we actually believe the piece to be more fitting to the style of a composer writing from a beach house in Malibu for next summer's pompous blockbusters.
Picture courtesy of Time Magazine