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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Back in the USSR

Saturday night, my daughter unexpectedly invited me to join her for the Louisville Orchestra's performance of Haydn's Symphony No. 82 and Shostakovitch's Tenth Symphony.

Predictably, the Haydn literally put me to sleep. In my family, I'm notorious for dozing off at various choral, orchestral, or operatic events. Haydn was like a lullaby to me.

The Shostakovitch piece, however, was terrific and I didn't miss a note.

Conductor Daniel Hege introduced the piece by telling the audience about the composer's personal history -- and about the four movements to come. He described a classic struggle between an artist and a brutal regime and made the audience eager to hear the artist's personal description of the tale.

My ears heard a resounding critique of the Soviet state -- emphasizing the brutality and illegitimacy of Stalin's rule, the composer's personal misery under that state, and the (somewhat tentative, but hopeful) elation at Stalin's death. It's hard to imagine that anyone in the west listening to this piece during the cold war ever doubted the inevitable demise of the Soviet state.

A couple of weeks ago I watched the far more popular Dr. Zhivago, which addressed some similar themes. Shostakovich's 10th symphony, however, told the tale much more efficiently -- and effectively, to my mind.

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