Britten and Shostakovich for the Soul

by LAURA JOBIN-ACOSTA     NOV. 30, 2018

There’s a certain awareness at eleven in the morning that doesn’t exist in the evening, during normal concert hours. At this daytime performance, conducted by music director Jaap Van Zweden, the New York Philharmonic brought to life, music from the absolute depths of the heart.

If you have the guts to trust Britten with your soul, you will be changed forever. It is very difficult to describe the intricacies in which Britten created the magic of his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 15. Putting the piece’s intangibility into words is almost doing it a disservice.

The piece is not easy to understand intellectually, but the listener hears it on a level of emotion that is so intimate that they are almost afraid to talk about it. Performed by violinist Simone Lamsma with orchestra, it impressed on the audience so deeply, that people were heard saying that they no longer wanted to listen to the Shostakovich, which followed. (Fortunately they stayed, because it was quite a performance.)

This was Ms. Lamsma’s New York Philharmonic debut, and she completely earned it. It was clear that the piece had become a part of her, and that with her playing, she was sharing her own heart through the music. The agility required by the violinist was disguised by her stunning interpretation of the piece. The listener got to be carried through the complexities with seamless drive. It was one of the most touching emotional experiences created by the New York Philharmonic.

The feature of this concert was Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, which offered insight on the remarkable circumstances in which the piece was composed and first performed. Leningrad is the former name of Saint Petersburg, a large city in Russia. When it was taken under siege by Nazi forces in 1941, countless citizens died from starvation, freezing, and disease alone.

It was one of the largest atrocities of World War II that led anywhere from hundreds of thousands, to an estimated one and a half million deaths. It was during the siege that Shostakovich decided to write this symphony, dedicating it to the citizens of Leningrad.

At the premiere of this concert in 1942 in Leningrad, twenty five of the original orchestral players did not participate, because they had died.

The performance of this piece was captivating and one could imagine what it was like during the premiere. It started off with a playful allegretto and before you knew it you were being blown away by the magnitude of the extra-large orchestra. It was a huge piece that offered a chance to meditate on the struggles and suffrage of the victims of World War II’s deadly path.

It was a beautiful reminder of the pain the human race has suffered. One walked away from this concert feeling a sense of conviction as well as sorrow. The power of music itself was paid full homage, in this heart wrenching concert, with the indisputably pristine sounds of the New York Philharmonic.

nyphil.org

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