Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, October 7, 2016

PSO plays Shostakovich Saturday: Music for NJ's dark time

Dmitri Shostakovich, who struggled to maintain
his artistic vision and integrity under the
murderous dictatorship of Josef Stalin.

The opening concert of the Plainfield Symphony's 97th season on Saturday evening (October 8) features Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.

I have always been particularly fond of Shostakovich -- not only for the excellence of his music, but also for his struggle to live  a life of artistic integrity during one of Russia's darkest times -- the era of Josef Stalin.

While millions were shot or deported to the gulags on spurious charges, a chill also fell over the arts under Stalin's murderous regime. Artists, writers and musicians were organized into state-run associations with mandatory membership (you don't belong, you don't get performed), where members were encouraged to denounce each other to win Stalin's approval.

Shostakovich was twice denounced -- in 1936, at the beginning of the great purges (in which he lost mentors, friends, colleagues, and family); and again in 1948, when most of his works were banned and his family's privileges withdrawn.

The 10th Symphony was his first symphonic composition after the 1948 denunciation, and was premiered in late 1953, just months after Stalin's death.

Shostakovich himself says that the violent second movement was a musical portrait of Stalin --

I did depict Stalin in my next symphony, the Tenth. I wrote it right after Stalin's death and no one has yet guessed what the symphony is about. It's about Stalin and the Stalin years. The second part, the scherzo, is a musical portrait of Stalin, roughly speaking. Of course, there are many other things in it, but that's the basis.

The symphony is also noted for containing an encoded theme --"Elmira" -- which is a reference to a student of Shostakovich's with whom he had fallen in love.

One reason I feel this symphony is especially appropriate for what I refer to as this "dark time" in New Jersey, is the disclosure in recent days of yet another, and vulgar, bullying incident by our esteemed governor, Chris Christie (read about it here).

It is not difficult to imagine that without our constitutional protections, Christie would behave similarly to Stalin if he had the power.

The other item on Saturday's program is Mozart's Symphony No. 36, the "Linz". Named after an Austrian town, it was a "quickie" dashed off by Mozart in four days during a 1783 visit to the locale.

Plainfield Symphony performances are at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church and get under way promptly at 7:00 PM.
Tickets may be purchased at the door: $55/Reserved, $35/General admission, $25/Seniors/Students; under 12 free.

Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church is at East 7th Street and Watchung Avenue. (Parking in church lot on First Place, on the street, or in Swain Galleries lot.)

For more information, call (908) 561-5140 or visit the PSO website:

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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