“We are looking for the raw, honest, unvarnished”
Strings, percussion, death throes – the HIDALGO Festival Orchestra opens the R*Evolution at
ORCHESTRA FOR FUTURE
with a dark and wild masterpiece by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Conductor
tells us what excites her about this piece of horror and its militant message
– Photo: Zuzanna Specjal
Johanna, how does Shostakovich’s 14th Symphony fit in with the festival theme “R*Evolution”?
Shostakovich is a composer who has revolutionary ideas in his DNA. In all his plays, he wants to break boundaries, rebel against injustice and against the system, in his case the communist dictatorship in the Soviet Union. Each of his symphonies is a response to what was happening politically in the country and how people were affected by it. In the 14th Symphony, Shostakovich particularly defends himself against the injustice of death.
So to what extent is this work political?
It is a work of art that expresses an attitude. It is not a journalistic documentary that reports on injustices. Instead, the music expresses an inner state that ideally also occupies the listener. And perhaps it influences some people so strongly that this art experience is later expressed in deeds and actions – in other words, that it changes people’s behavior.
What does the 14th Symphony have to do with “ecological sustainability”?
The composer was certainly concerned with something else in 1969: he was inspired by Modest Mussorgsky’s “Songs and Dances of Death” and Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”, which dealt with the horrors of the Second World War. He rebels against the violent death that people suffer, be it through oppression, arbitrariness or war. At HIDALGO, we relate this now and in our present day to climate change and the way we treat our environment. The piece is black and pessimistic – and not a bit conciliatory. There is no “everything will be fine in the end”. The music says that we must remain dissatisfied. That is the point at which we dock.
Do I have to prepare for the concert in order to understand it? Read books about the composer, listen to other works?
No. This 14th Symphony is unbelievably direct, no prior intellectual knowledge is required. The music sweeps us away immediately.
Because Shostakovich is an incredibly good composer – it’s as simple as that. How broadly and softly he uses the strings that cover the surface. How carefully he uses the percussion, which gives the work a vertical framework.
The 14th Symphony is scored for strings and percussion, with a soprano and a bass. This is an unusual line-up …
… and a very exciting one, also for me as a conductor. The contrast between high and low voices is phenomenal!
But the music is also very uncomfortable, right?
Yes, there are never any comfortable concerts at HIDALGO. You don’t always have to have fun, there can also be beauty in the depth, the seriousness and the very personal nature of the music. That’s what we’re always looking for: the raw, honest, unvarnished. This is in all our programs – and our audience appreciates it. If you are looking for real, truthful music, you have come to the right place.