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Dvorák's Timeless Musical Pilgrimage

Andris Nelsons
Marco Borggreve
Andris Nelsons

Saturday, September 26, 2020
8:00 PM

Andris Nelsons leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Dvorák's masterful "New World" Symphony, along with works by Shostakovich and Barber.

Andris Nelsons, conductor

BARBER Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance
SHOSTAKOVICH (arr. BARSHAI) Chamber Symphony
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9, From the New World

This concert is no longer available on demand.

Andris Nelsons previews Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony:


Brian McCreath [00:00:00] I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Andris Nelsons, who is here just before taking off on a tour for China and Korea and Taiwan, Hong Kong, all kinds of exciting things coming up. Andris, thanks for your time today. I appreciate it.

Andris Nelsons [00:00:13] Great pleasure to be here.

Brian McCreath [00:00:15] I want to ask you about the Chamber Symphony by Shostakovich, otherwise known as the Eighth String Quartet, really, but in this arrangement by Rudolf Barshay, and about how this symphony relates to the other symphonies. You know, you and the BSO have been performing, recording all of Shostakovich's symphonies. And I think that people would excuse you for not including this piece because it's not one of the numbered symphonies by Shostakovich. So tell me what the Chamber Symphony tells you and how it fits within the other 15 symphonies by Shostakovich.

Andris Nelsons [00:00:50] Yes, I think firstly it is, right, it is the eighth quartet, that's the original counting. And that's what he composed in 1960 in Dresden. And he needed only three days to write it down. And it's very-- I think the history of this piece is very interesting. And also what Shostakovich has said himself.

And that, in a certain sense made us feel that we want to include this in our cycle because, for him, it was one of the, I think, strongest, deepest pieces, as he said, if I'm not mistaken, that even though, of course, on the beginning of the score, it says it is for the victims of fascism and the war. And of course, I still think that this is certainly in memory of these... all the people who lost their lives in this terrible time.

But in one letter, Shostakovich said that it's not very often that somebody composes the piece in memoriam of the composer. And he wrote this piece he would like to dedicate to himself.

Andris Nelsons [00:02:15] But that period when he went to Dresden, with the idea actually to compose music for film about the bombing of Dresden; but he wrote in a letter, he cannot concentrate on-- he cannot start writing even anything close to what he needed at that time for a film.

But he had in mind this thing, and he wrote this quartet in three days, and he really thought this is a personal piece, extremely deep and personal piece. And that's why I think it’s one of the reasons why we, I think, put it next to the symphony cycle, that it is a very personal Shostakovich piece and it has a lot of quotations from many of his earlier works. And also, as you said, Rudolph Barshay made the arrangement which Shostakovich approved for the big string size.

And it was also interesting that that time when Shostakovich came back from Dresden, he was quite depressed, quite sad, and what he felt like as if he's written a requiem for himself. And he was carrying a big box of sleeping pills, so he was really at that time, he was very close to commit suicide. And it's very interesting, not when Stalin was alive, but in 1960 where things seemed to be, if I may say, better than maybe [when] the big tyrants were alive. I mean, Hitler and Stalin.

Andris Nelsons [00:03:51] So also it's also the proof that Shostakovich's music is much beyond the political things which happen in the world, because we more and more see, towards his end of his life, he was more and more depressive, sometimes more dark, more outspoken, maybe, in his letters and talking about life and being very afraid to die.

And I think that's maybe one of the reasons that many people say it's one of the most strong, strongest and personal of Shostakovich pieces. And that's one of the reasons why we put it in the CD as well.

Brian McCreath [00:04:37] Well, the other thing about it is that, as you say, there are a lot of quotes from a lot of the symphonies, from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which is where your whole series started, with that Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth. What changes in the piece when it becomes a string orchestra piece rather than a string quartet piece? What aspects of the piece are magnified, become stronger as a chamber orchestra piece?

Andris Nelsons [00:05:06] I think the thing is also that when we talk about these arrangements and also, for example, Schoenberg Verklarte Nacht, which we performed earlier this season, there is one side which says that, of course, the original version is, it has some more intimate links to the composer and his and, of course, also studying and studying and restudying the piece again, of course, I was very curious to listen to the quartets and to differences in interpretation of quartet.

Andris Nelsons [00:05:44] And I think maybe in certain sense that it's almost as if you... have a loud speaker and you talk the same text, but you talk through loud speaker to the wider audience. And to the world. How important are the things which are in this quartet, which some people might think, “Ok, it's a quartet. Maybe I don't like string quartet music,” or, you know, which might have just went on not as much noticed, as maybe it is through this arrangement of the Chamber Symphony for String Orchestra.

And that could be one, just one side, which I could characterize because he supported, he approved the arrangement. And I think he probably, through this arrangement, maybe more and more people got to know this piece, this quartet, and maybe many of the people then through this piece came back to quartet. But that's their own, you know, decision, what they prefer to listen to, what they like and seems stronger.

Andris Nelsons [00:06:57] But I think that there was both strong ways. One is more intimate, and one is, of course, particularly if you have, you know, the string sound as the Boston Symphony has, you can get this depth, darkness and intensity and sometimes transparent, cold, but at times little warm with a little hope, sound. And I think that maybe talks to a wider audience. I would say maybe touches wider audiences. And I think certainly there is both the quartet and the Chamber Symphony version is equally scary, and I see, and deep in the romantic context. Certainly.

Brian McCreath [00:07:55] That's great. That's great, Andris, and I actually agree, yeah, that there are ways that more people will encounter this music in this form than might encounter it as a string quartet. So thanks for those thoughts. Andris, thanks for your time today. I appreciate it. And have fun on the tour to China and to Korea and Taiwan.

Andris Nelsons [00:08:15] Thank you very much. With pleasure.