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Fairfax Symphony Orchestra and Sergey Antonov

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Charles T. Downey, Cellist Sergey Antonov with Fairfax Symphony Orchestra
Washington Post, January 16, 2012

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Shostakovich, Symphony No. 11 ("The Year 1905"), WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, S. Bychkov

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Laurel Fay, Shostakovich: A Life
“Life is short, so eat dessert first” is advice that cellist Sergey Antonov took to heart. In a concert with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, the finely whipped mousse of Alexander Glazunov’s “Chant du Menestrel” was a delicious piece with which to lead to a dazzling rendition of Haydn’s first cello concerto. Concluding with a barnburner of a Shostakovich symphony, the evening showed how a lower-tier orchestra can distinguish itself through daring programming.

Antonov, still in his 20s, won the Gold Medal at Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2007. His suave, burnished, ardent tone served the Glazunov melody elegantly, with a free sense of phrasing that was neither too mechanical nor bogged down in sugary rubato. In the Haydn, Antonov went for admirably clean articulation, pressing both outer movements to the fast side but making sure to use the soft, angelic side of his tone rather than grinding out all the notes. The only disappointment was that he played the common, short cadenzas, rather than something more unusual, like those played by his one-time mentor, Mstislav Rostropovich. [Continue reading]
You can hear the inventive cadenzas played in the Haydn concerto by Mstislav Rostropovich and Peter Wispelwey (whom we heard live in this piece with the Australian Chamber Orchestra a few years ago).

Of the meaning of "The Year 1905," Laurel Fay writes: "Whether it was Shostakovich's true purpose to project a concealed, 'Aesopian' subtext through his eleventh symphony is a debate that was engaged posthumously." The events of January 9 were personally significant for Shostakovich, for his father was apparently among the workers involved in the demonstration in the square that day. Comparisons between the Tsar's bloody crackdown and the Soviet crackdown against the Hungarians in 1956 are "easy to draw" but do not seem to have been overtly intended by Shostakovich or perceived at the time:
As appalled as the Soviet intelligentsia may have been by its government's bloody suppression of the Hungarian uprising, Shostakovich actually provided listeners in 1957 little incentive to explore this connection or to delve any deeper than the manifest content of his score. By the late 1950s, the larger-than-life public image of the most distinguished of Soviet composers -- conveyed through the inescapable profusion of speeches, articles, testimonials, photo opportunities, and so forth -- was as a sincerely reclaimed loyalist, a cultural pitchman for the causes of the Communist Party and Soviet state. Most of Shostakovich's contemporaries accepted, or rejected, the Eleventh Symphony at face value. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, for example, failed to discern any redeeming contemporary message behind the Eleventh Symphony. Reflecting on the moving experience of hearing an internee in a concentration camp sing the revolutionary song "Listen!" (a song employed by Shostakovich in the first movement of his symphony Palace Square), Solzhenitsyn observed in part 5 of The Gulag Archipelago: "It is a great shame that, before his Eleventh Symphony, Shostakovich didn't hear that song here! Either he wouldn't have touched it at all or he would have expressed its modern instead of its extinct significance" (pp. 202-203).
In fact, as Fay also recounts, in 1958, Nikita Khrushchev and members of the Communist Party Central Committee hosted a reception that was "a well-publicized pep rally for the ongoing task of building communism." Shostakovich was honored by being asked to give the toast "on behalf of Soviet musicians," which he did, raising his glass to the Communist Party and its Central Committee, thanking them for their wise guidance of Soviet musicians.

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