Shostakovich 'In the Year 2017'
Somehow I've nearly made it through January and February unscathed, and we’re over a month into Drumpf's presidency. This week, I’m in Winnipeg playing a diverse programme of Gershwin, Fung (I already tricked someone into thinking it’s the music of my Aunt Viv), and Shostakovich.
Shostakovish’s Symphony No. 12 ‘The Year 1917’ was composed following his seemingly complete and utter capitulation to the Communists marked by his induction as a member of the party in 1960. Commissioned by the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party, the work served as a commemoration of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and a tribute to Lenin. As the only one of his symphonies with a fast first movement, the title Revolutionary Petrograd, dictates the fervor and madness of the revolution. Though initially dismissed as a horrible piece of propaganda, we’ve learned that Shostakovich wove his very early work, Funeral March for the Victims of the Revolution, into the second and last movements of the work, imbuing the symphony with his uniquely ironic and sarcastic undertone, a veneer of an homage to Lenin and his State under possibly the most hollow and empty finale every written. For almost the entire last two pages of my part (and in the violins), I vacillate between essentially two pitches for nearly the entire two last pages. The emptiness of this binary fervor at what feels like a brutal FFF, with the pounding timpani like a head banging against the wall is cruelly evocative of ones complete submission to the party, and also reminds me of why I sometimes hate (some types of) minimalism and drone music in their mindless submission to ‘nothingness’. Bleargh. Is there anything less rewarding than actively choosing to turn your brain off and go gray? Is there anything more depressing than to think this is the music symptomatic of my generation? Music is not meditation, and music is not mindless; it challenges, it inspires, it TRANSCENDS. (Aside: I love the purity and crystallization of tintinnabulation, and the music of Arvo Part.)
I digress. It is thrilling to play this piece in all of its nuance and complexity, in the delightfulness of the last movement waltz's hypermetre, in the raw tonal shifts of the inner movements where Shostakovich alludes to so much more than rote capitulation to the state. As a musician and artist, it is so important to examine and perform these types of works, especially in light of the Trump era of falsehoods, Putin, the rise of nationalism and populism, toxic levels of disparity, and disaffection and apathy the world over. Last year, I performed another Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 with the OSM, a gorgeous and tragic work that also remains appropriate for our world today. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to have opportunities to perform such thought provoking and inspiring works like these. Some days, it’s deeply rewarding to be a musician.