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NSO in DSCH and Bruckner

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Charles T. Downey, Christoph Eschenbach and National Symphony put new spin on familiar works
Washington Post, February 10, 2012

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L. Fay, Shostakovich: A Life

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Shostakovich, Violin Concerto No. 1, N. Salerno-Sonnenberg, London Symphony Orchestra, M. Shostakovich
Neither of the pieces played Thursday night by the National Symphony Orchestra — Shostakovich’s first Violin Concerto and Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony — has been underrepresented in recent years in Washington. Yet Music Director Christoph Eschenbach gave many reasons to listen to each one anew.

Compared with last week’s soloist-free program — which focused the ear on the sound of the NSO under Eschenbach’s baton — this week’s program was just as serious-minded, while centered on thoughts of anxiety and death. And perhaps to no one’s surprise, it played to a rather full Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Shostakovich had almost finished his first violin concerto in 1948, when he was again denounced by the Soviet cultural apparatus for formalism. He put away the score, later recalling exactly where he had left off amid a violin run of notes. Shostakovich returned to it only after the death of Stalin — for a 1955 premiere with David Oistrakh as soloist. [Continue reading]
National Symphony Orchestra
Shostakovich, first violin concerto, op. 77/99
Bruckner, ninth symphony
With Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Laurel Fay's description of the aftermath of the 1948 denunciation is chilling. Shostakovich later recalled having received all sorts of anonymous letters, calling him a scoundrel and saying that he should be executed. He was dismissed from his conservatory teaching positions, and his works were scratched from concert programs throughout the Soviet Union. Worst of all, his own son, then 10, was forced "to vilify his father during a music school exam." After acknowledging the Party's guidance in denouncing him, Shostakovich went on to state publicly, "I will work ever more diligently on the musical embodiment of images of the heroic Russian people."

The Berlin Philharmonic recently performed a new completion of Bruckner 9 (based on the composer's sketches by Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca, 1985-2008/revised 2010).

At one point in the emotionally charged third movement of Bruckner’s ninth symphony last night, the orchestra’s principal oboist, Nicholas Stovall, stood up and hurriedly walked off stage. Other listeners may have reacted with the same surprise as I did, having no memory of an off-stage oboe part in Bruckner’s ninth symphony (a suspicion borne out by a subsequent look at the score). This morning Patricia O’Kelly, the Managing Director of Media Relations for the NSO, was able to confirm that Stovall “was overtaken by stomach flu” mid-movement and had to leave. The other members of the oboe section scrambled to cover the part. Anecdotal evidence indicates that a fast-moving stomach virus has been going around the city this week, including in my own home. I was a little worried that, if the virus got me next, I would be the one having to leave mid-concert. No decision has been made yet about the oboe section for tonight’s performance.

Another update came from Patricia O'Kelly later in the day: "Last night William Wielgus took over the principal part. Nick is much better today, and expects to play. If he cannot, Jamie Roberts, our assistant principal, will play the principal part."

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