Ann Arbor was given another gift last night in their symphony’s performance of “Absolut Russian,” a program filled with formidable Russian composers. We were treated to Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” complete with a 150 member choir, and the lush and romantic “Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture” by Tchaikovsky. Both pieces were stunningly beautiful in complete different ways.
But what I really want to share with you is the opening piece, “Symphony No. 10 in E minor” by Dimitry Shostakovich. Shostakovich (1906 -1975) was composing music in Russia during the reign of Joseph Stalin. Some of his music was censored but Symphony No. 10, scored shortly after Stalin’s death in 1953, made it past the censors. Only after it did would he reveal that the four movements represented, in order, the victims of tyranny, Stalin himself, the attempt at suffocating individual spirit, and ultimately liberation. (Interpretation from program notes written by Edward Yadzinsky.)
Maestro Arie Lipsky gave a talk prior to the concert. He introduced Symphony No. 10 by saying the first movement was long, and moved from sadness to anger to hopelessness. I looked at my husband, rolled my eyes, and said “Great” just what I need! But where there is anger and sadness there must always be hope, and in this piece you just have to wait for it.
My favorite movement, and coincidentally the shortest, is the second movement which represents Joseph Stalin himself. I imagined a chase scene as I listened, the brass, as Lipsky said, chasing the fleeing strings. Perhaps the original interpretations was that Stalin was chasing artists. Listen to the intricacies of the music for yourself; what do you hear?
There are so many interesting and integral parts to No. 10 and they all come together in the fourth movement, building to a breathtaking and triumphant ending. The clip I found for you of the second half of the 4th is five minutes of music and then several minutes of applause. Please watch it, you’ll be transported to the center of the symphony and you’ll feel the energy and the joy. Then imagine hearing it live. Breathtaking. And as the woman behind me said as we were on our feet applauding; “That was exhausting!”
But after all, what I really wanted to tell you about isn’t even in the music. I wanted to tell you about that moment that happens at the instant something as glorious as this piece ends. It’s a moment when every musician is transported to the height of emotion, just as the applause begins, when musicians and maestro are still connected, eyes locked, instruments quiet, muscles still tensed. There is a moment when the baton is lowered but the relationship is extended between musicians and conductor for just a second or two more. It’s a private moment between people who recognize something beautiful has just been set free.
I witnessed that moment Saturday night, as Maestro Lipsky stood still, then lowered his arms, nodded his head once in an acknowledgement of exquisite beauty, placed his hand over his heart and bowed slightly to his orchestra. And they all grinned right back at him.
The music that night didn’t make me cry, didn’t send shivers across my shoulders. Instead it sucked me in and spit me out — I was grateful to be there. But that moment, the passing of silent love and respect between the orchestra and their leader, that moment filled my eyes with tears.