On Sunday 6 November 2016 I attended the Greenville Symphony concert titled "Genius Against Tyrant". It featured two pieces by two famous Russians, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Dmitri Shostakovich. The concert featured the excellent young pianist and rising star, Dmitri Levkovich. When you add Maestro Edvard Tchivzhel to that mix, it equals quite the quartet of talented Slavs!
The first part of the program featured Levkovich in Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 43 by Rachmaninoff. Neither the good doctor nor I had never heard it played through, but as we listened to the 24 variations based on the work of the brilliant 19th century violinist Paganini, even we musical know-littles recognized two themes, one fairly well known at the very beginning, the other (variation 18) one of the most beautiful and recognizable melodies that the composer ever penned. And, as Dottore Gianni asked me to point out, Rachmaninoff is no slouch at gorgeous melodies. Okay Dottore? Satisfied.
We'll move on. Tchivzhel manages to bring very fine guest artists in to play with the orchestra, and of the three or four guest pianists in the four years of my subscription since my arrival in the "Upcountry," Levkovich is perhaps the finest. Young, assured, powerful. I have mentioned in previous posts that the orchestra tends at times to outdo the soloist, not in terms of talent but in terms of volume, so that, while the live audience can SEE the work done by the pianist, one hears only portions. 'Tis pity, but there you have it. Not, however, in this case. And the orchestra rose to the talent of the usually dressed youthful soloist, so that every variation was a pleasure.
The work itself was outdone only by the encores, two pieces that the good doctor and I had heard before, but as usual with musical hacks, could remember neither name of work or composer. Suffice to say the audience was transported.
As people were heading for bar or restroom or both at intermission I heard on either side of me comments such as "Well, that was worth the entire concert." Well-meant of course, but the comments did not end here. They were a comparison before the deed, as on both my left and right that sentiment was followed by grumbled lines that went something like this: "Shostakovich is NOT my favorite composer!" They seemed to be saying that they were willing to sit through part two, but that it was going to be tedious compared to the more easily digested part one.
But oh how wrong they were! The work was Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, and written in 1953, it was by his own admission about Josef Stalin and his nightmarish years in power. One of the greatest monsters of the 20th century, Stalin died that year, and only then was it possible for the artist (the "genius" of the program's title) to revenge himself on Stalin (the "tyrant" of the program's title), and he did so in a furious, brilliant musical tirade. The relationship between Stalin and Shostakovich was absolutely terrifying for the latter, a microcosmic look at the fear Stalin provoked in other artists, as well as in millions of Russians.
The symphony outdid itself, as it occasionally does, in the playing of this difficult piece, urged on no doubt for Tchivzhel, who has personal reasons for hating the dictator. I suspect that for some in the audience it WAS a letdown, but not for me. Instead I viewed it as one of the finest concert pieces they played in my four years of listening. Others in the audience must have thought so too, for the ovation was tremendous.
The 10th took on special significance for me, as I was hoping that a current tyrant, Donald Trump, would be soundly defeated. Alas it was not to be. I began writing this post before the election, and after it I could not continue, so disgusted was I at the nightmare of his coming to power. It was as if Shostakovich had stopped writing after the third movement, as the first three are all frightening musically, as they focus on the nightmare that was Stalin.
I write now, on the last day of January 2017, still stunned by the rise of Trump, angry not just at his self-seeking, mean-spirited self, but at his refusal to listen as the new Stalin, Vladimir Putin, was clearly implicated in disturbing our elections. I'm even more irate at Trump's more recent atrocities, especially the sudden ban on immigrants and refugees.
But I needed to write it down, to complete the post, and now I have. I had intended to tell the story of a play written late in the last century, called Quartet if I remember correctly, in which Stalin calls in the panicked composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and gives them a music lesson. I'm afraid I'm not up to that, in fact I've depressed myself while writing a relatively short rendition of the extensive praise I wanted to heap on Shostakovich, the 10th symphony and the brilliant performance of it by the GSO.
I wish you could have heard it. I was exhilarated - and then the Donald won.