Musical responses to personal threats

ON Wednesday 6th December, Poole’s Lighthouse will once again welcome Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Vassily Sinaisky and soloist pianist Kirill Gerstein, for a concert entitiled An Artist’s Reply.

The New York Times has des­cribed  Gerstein as one of the most respected pianists of his generation. An Artist’s Reply includes three compositions from Russian composers, each a response to a personal threat.

After returning to his homeland of the USSR for good, Sergei Prokofiev reacted to the criticism he had received about his earlier works with some of the most popular compositions in his oeuvre, including the Romeo and Juliet suite, which opens the concert.

Sergei Rachmaninov’s staunch Romanticism was beginning to lose popularity after the fin de siècle, as was seen by the poor reception of his 4th piano concerto. His ever-popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was his response to this decline in public opinion.  In 1931, his works were banned in the USSR and Rach­maninov was declared a “violent enemy of Soviet Russia”.

In these times, under the brutal reign of Stalin, Russian composers were forced to write in a heroic, positive style to inspire patriotism for the state. This was a terrible constriction for the young composer Dmitri Shostakovich, well known for his compositional practice exploring the darker side of humanity.
He lived in constant fear of “disappearing”, like many close to him. Pravda (the Russian newspaper) was keen to revile his works at every opportunity – after the premiere of Lady Macbeth, he waited outside his house so that the NKVD would not disturb his family if they came to arrest him.

His 5th Symphony in D minor (which ends the Poole concert) was a clever response to the terror that the state was inflicting on him. The last movement is intended to mock the ideals set out by Stalin, at the same time as submitting to the public taste and therefore saving his life. Indeed if it wasn’t for the exuberant response of the audience, an ovation lasting for half an hour, the piece almost certainly would have had Shostakovich killed.

The concert begins at 7.30pm.

For more details, visit the website, www.BSOlive.com or telephone 01202 280000.