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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Plainfield Symphony: Beethoven's Fifth Saturday

The PSO's Beethoven performance comes serendipitously
as our premiere FM classical station uses Beethoven to reach new audiences.
Continuing its 92nd season, the Plainfield Symphony has a double bill on Saturday evening: Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Shostakovitch's Piano Concerto No. 1.

Interestingly enough, the PSO's Beethoven performance comes as the area's premier classical music station WQXR is riffing on graphic designer Shepard Fairey's 'Obey Giant' themes to promote the master of the symphony to a new, younger audience for the venerable FM radio station (see NYTimes story here).

Beethoven -- especially the 5th Symphony -- is guaranteed to thrill anyone who comes in the door, aficianado or not. That is both the key to his success with audiences and as a way of introducing new audiences to classical music -- a challenge for all community symphony orchestras, Plainfield's included.

The Fifth Symphony is sometimes dubbed the 'Symphony of Destiny' because Beethoven told his biographer Schindler about the opening four-note sequence, 'So pocht das Shicksal an die Pfortel!' (That's how destiny knocks on your door!).

During World War II, the four-note sequence took on another meaning when the BBC network adopted it as a poke-in-the eye to the Nazis: first by taking to heart the towering German composer, and secondly because the four-note sequence in Morse Code (dit-dit-dit-DAH) represents the letter 'V' -- which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill adopted as his famous photo gesture 'V for victory'.

Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 will feature
Justin Wong, Gold Prize Winner of the Young Pianist Competition of New Jersey.

The concerto is from 1933, the period when Josef Stalin was consolidating his position as the head of the Soviet party and government. Though it is considered satirical and would not have passed muster in the later years of the 1930s, it comes from a relatively peaceful period in the composer's life, after he had found work at TRAM, a proletarian theater.

Shostakovich had already fallen afoul of Stalin's cultural supporters after the premier of his opera The Nose (based on a Gogol story) in 1930, but managed to escape the hostile attentions of the cultural apparatchiks until his first denunciation in 1936.

Shostakovich is endlessly fascinating, not only for his superb music and wonderful orchestrations, but for the true life cat-and-mouse game he had to play with Stalin and the Soviet authorities to survive, express his musical ideas and to avoid the gulags.

Both the Beethoven and the Shostakovich have been used against dark and troubled times to shine some light on humanity's path.

Which we all can get a glimpse of Saturday night.

Hope to see you there.


Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
Shostakovich: Piano Concert No. 1

Saturday, November 5
7:00 PM

Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, East 7th Street and Watchung Avenue
(Parking in church lot, on street, or in Swain Galleries lot)

Tickets: $45/Reserved, $25/General admission, $15/Seniors/Students; under 12 free
Info: (908) 561-5140 or visit the PSO website:

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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James Rowland said...

Thanks Dan. Also, free reception in the church Assembly Room after the concert. Enjoy!