Symphony features rich masterpieces of Russia
When it comes to Russians, there is an old saying, "One alone is an anarchist, two together are a chess game. Three Russians make a revolution, and four are a string quartet."
Of course, anarchists aren't encouraged to show their faces in symphony orchestras, where togetherness is what it's all about. But chess, revolution and string quartets? These have a place, especially when an orchestra performs a program of Russian music.
This weekend's concert program is very Russian. In fact, it is the work of four Russians. Each one, in his own way, wrote music of beauty, drama and intellect. The richness of string quartets is here, along with the sweep of revolution that catches you up in its midst. (The historical awareness of revolution is present, too.) And if, in the middle of this beauty and sweep, you're in the mood to think, to ponder, the way a chess player might -- well, the last piece on the program offers plenty of food for thought.
The first of our Russians is Alexander Borodin, with his Overture to "Prince Igor." Borodin's only opera, "Prince Igor" features a 12th-century Russian leader who goes to battle against the Polovetsian tribes from Central Asia. The overture captures the prince's heroism, along with the exoticism of his enemies.
As in all of Borodin's music, the orchestral writing is transporting and beautiful. But in this case, Borodin had some help. A busy man who had a day job as a chemist, Borodin died before he could complete the work. The opera, and this overture, were finished by another great Alexander: the younger composer Alexander Glazunov.
This makes Tchaikovsky our third Russian, as we turn to his "Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra." Here, instead of the 12th century, we go back only to the Rococo period and Mozart, who was Tchaikovsky's favorite composer. Mozart's grace and Tchaikovsky's passion are combined in an elegant theme and a series of ingenious variations. Our soloist, Zuill Bailey, has already made a wonderful recording of the work. It should be a real treat to hear his interpretation, both for us in the orchestra and for those lucky enough to be in the audience.
Our fourth Russian is Dmitri Shostakovich, whose Symphony No. 10 completes the program. In 1948, Shostakovich, then 42, was denounced as a "formalist" by Stalin's government. Several years of incredible stress and misery followed. Shostakovich was slowly "rehabilitated," but only felt secure enough to produce a new orchestral work after Stalin died in 1953. The Tenth's furious scherzo movement is said to be a portrait of Stalin. But the work as a whole is a rich and searching self-portrait. One theme, representing Shostakovich himself, will be familiar from other works such as the Cello Concerto. Another represents one of the composer's female students, with whom he had fallen in love. The two themes can be heard, getting closer and closer ...
...This will be our first concert with Maestro Delfs as we focus on the rich Russian tradition. As long as we can keep the anarchists out, I think it's going to be exciting.
'A Salute to Russian Masters'
With soloist Zuill Bailey, cello, conducted by Andreas Delfs:
» In concert: 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» Program: Borodin's "Prince Igor" Overture, Tchaikovsky's "Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra," Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 in E minor
» Tickets: $21 to $74; 20 percent off for military and seniors; $10 students
» Call: Ticketmaster, (877) 750-4400, the box office, 792-2000, or visit www.honolulusymphony.com
Sasha Margolis is a violinist with the Honolulu Symphony. "Crescendo" appears on the Monday prior to each concert of the season to illuminate works to be performed. E-mail email@example.com