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Baiba Skride, Shostakovich, and the BSO

Baiba Skride
Marco Borggreve
Baiba Skride

Saturday, November 12, 2022
8:00 PM

The Latvian violinist is the soloist in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and Andris Nelsons leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in works by Pärt and Stravinsky, as well as Saariaho’s "Saarikoski Songs," with soprano Anu Komsi.

Andris Nelsons, conductor
Baiba Skride, violin
Anu Komsi, soprano

Arvo PÄRT Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 1
Kaija SAARIAHO Saarikoski Songs (world premiere of orchestral version; BSO co-commission)
Igor STRAVINSKY Suite from The Firebird (1919 version)

This concert was originally broadcast on February 26, 2022 and is no longer available on demand.

Hear Baiba Skride describe the challenges of Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the audio player above (transcript below):

Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Baiba Skride, who is back here in the United States once again after a nice trip to Tanglewood last summer. Baiba, thank you for a little bit of your time today. I appreciate it.

Baiba Skride Thank you so much for having me here. It's such a pleasure to be back with this wonderful orchestra, with all these wonderful people around. I'm just really, really happy to be here.

Brian McCreath Well, this is now the ninth anniversary of the first time you played with the BSO. You've done so many great concertos here with the orchestra, Sebastian Courier, the Bernstein Year, some Mozart, Sibelius. But you're actually back to the piece that you played when you first came here, the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto. And so nine years is a long time. We all kind of think of pieces changing in our lives over time. How different does it feel to you now for this piece than it did maybe in 2013 or even earlier than that?

Baiba Skride Well, I always hope that every piece I play, that it develops during the time. It's always difficult to put words to it how it develops. I think as you get older, you get either more nervous or you get more calm in certain places. I think it's just all a part of the time of life you were in. So I really hope that there's more for me to say in this particular piece. I've loved it since I'm a child. It's been always my piece of, where I go when I feel bad, I go to listen to this piece or play this piece. It's always been a part of me, so I really hope that I can say something more.

Brian McCreath Well, I remember you saying when you were here nine years ago that this had been something, this piece has been with you since childhood. And you know, when you listen to this piece, that sounds kind of astonishing, because it's not a conventional violin concerto. It's not like most other violin concertos. What do you think it was when you were so young that drew you to it? And and also provides you that place to go when maybe things feel tough or whatever now?

Baiba Skride Well, you know, growing up in Soviet Union at that time, we were mostly listening to Russian or Eastern composers. And Shostakovich was definitely the one which we listened to almost the most, because he would just bring out all these really deep and dark feelings and sometimes so overwhelming that if you listen to the music, you forgot you have your own problems because they were so much bigger than your own stuff. And so that's how I came in contact with Shostakovich and stayed with me ever since. I mean, it's just something very emotional, very personal that I've kept over the years with this kind of music. I mean, it doesn't have to be the the concerto. It can be all sorts of other symphonies or quartets or chamber music. But I I always feel very close to this type of music.

Brian McCreath Yeah, that feels like it reveals something about your childhood or the time that you grew up in, the place that you grew up in, because you're really attracted to the inner emotion, the sort of grit of Shostakovich, you might say.

Baiba Skride Well, definitely. And it has nothing to do with me being a violinist. That was just a part of me growing up in that kind of place and we didn't have pop music. We didn't listen to any kind of other stuff. We listened to Shostakovich, me and my sisters. And this was something a very, very, very big part of our lives learning this kind of music. But I remember that I told to my teacher that I really wanted to play this concerto, and she said, No, it's way too hard. I think it was, I was 12 or 13 years old, and I she said, No, it's really hard. And I remember studying the score for, I think about two years. And I really, really wanted to. And I succeeded, actually. I finally convinced her that I was able to play this concerto. So it was a really my most deepest wish from inside to actually play this concerto.

Brian McCreath And yet I'm sure that over the years it grew with you as you grew in abilities and interpretation and depth. And so, describe for me, in purely physical terms, the endurance that it takes to get through this piece. The violinist plays just, it seems continuously. You almost never get a break.

Baiba Skride Oh yes, actually, physically speaking, that's one of the hardest concertos. Your arm gets really, really tired and - both arms, actually. But of course, it's, I mean, I hope it's developed over the years, but it's the most amazing feeling to come in front of an orchestra like BSO and they just sit down and they play it and you feel like, well, I feel like I'm at home. I mean, they're so capable of straight away feeling the kind of mood you are into, or what you want to present. And they're so quick in doing that and of course, Andris is... What can you say? Andris is the Shostakovich god, so this is a place you come and you play and you feel like, OK, there's nothing better than this.

Brian McCreath You gave me a perfect segue way here because of you and Andris have known each other since you were basically kids. I mean, you know, young people. And you've played this piece with him here before. I'm sure you've played it in lots of other places with Andris. So you have a a very deep understanding, a common background in Latvia to some degree. But is this piece in general more subject to a conductor soloist understanding than maybe other concertos are? Do you need to have a more deep sort of understanding with each other than you might in, say, Tchaikovsky or anything else that you might play just because there is so much interpretive possibility in this piece?

Baiba Skride Well, it's a very interesting question, because, I mean, generally, of course, every concerto needs somebody who understands you. But it's true actually with this piece, it leaves you with so much space of interpreting it and playing it with other conductors and other people and other orchestras. Of course, I've noticed how how amazing it is to do it with somebody who actually, well, it feels like he knows me inside out. I mean, we've played it a million times and we understand each other on a musical level that I don't have with anybody else. And he's such a wonderful, wonderful musician. So of course, it's incredible help that he knows before you even know yourself that you're going to do something. He already feels it and knows how to steer the orchestra. And especially in this piece, there are these two beautiful slow movements, which are incredibly long and which need so much of of keeping together, which is very difficult to do when you're being so slow. But I mean, he manages to bring all these emotions, everything together throughout these long movements. It's incredible.

Brian McCreath You know, when we watch Andris conduct here, it's fun to see what he does from one performance to the next because it's not always the same, right? And that's how it is for most great musicians. But have there been times in this piece when maybe he's drawn something a little further out than you really expected?

Baiba Skride Oh, yeah, well, that's the amazing thing that we can actually experiment. And we take so many risks sometimes, that of course, sometimes it doesn't go exactly the way you want it to. But that's a part of learning experience, and that's what makes it fun, actually. We went on tour with Leipzig actually with this concerto a couple of years back, and so we played it for about eight times or something in the row. And it's incredible to see how performance to performance that something changes. You take more risks and then you maybe exaggerate a little bit, then you take a little bit back again and it's just such a such an amazing process.

Brian McCreath Speaking about just the production of the sound on the violin - and you're speaking to a non violinist here, so you'll pardon my naivete a little bit here - but let me frame it this way. Over the years, as Andris and the BSO have done so much Shostakovich, I think that some of us listening can hear the orchestra, you know, dig in even further. Their style, their way of approaching the music has been refined and deepened over the years. Is there anything about playing the piece physically that you sort of need to calibrate when you come back to this concerto? If you've been doing Mozart or Sibelius or something else previously, do you have to sort of take a moment to recalibrate something about how you're producing the sound or even what the sound is that you're producing to make this piece effective?

Baiba Skride Well, I think, and that's what I notice also in the orchestra sound and what Andris always asks of them in the rehearsals, sometimes to be ugly or sometimes to be not really refined sound. And this is something I have to do as a soloist as well. Sometimes it has to be mean and it has to be too much almost to show the emotions that they feel like you want to show. And this is something very interesting because of course, you will never play Mozart in that kind of way. You would always be very nice and kind to the score and to the instrument. And here you really have to go all out. And sometimes you break a couple of hairs, you break a couple of strings. But that's part of the job. I mean, that's part of the music.

Brian McCreath Yeah. And you know, this piece is one of those that the living memory of it survives with a lot of people from when it was new. And in fact, those of us who weren't around when it was new have recordings that we can go to of David Oistrakh playing it. Is that sort of confining to you? Is that is that a limitation to you to listen to those recordings? Or is it in some way freeing or in some way educational to hear David Oistrakh play this piece,

Baiba Skride Absolutely, it's inspirational. I mean, of course, everybody plays a little different, and that's the great thing about having, being able to play that over the years and having so many recordings to listen to. But of course, the first ones, they're the ones who are the most inspiring. And you take your ideas of it, you take, I mean, the most basic thing is the score. He was very clear about the score. And then, of course, your job as an interpreter is to find something special to say. And I mean, especially the old recordings, and it has been my inspiration since I've known this concerto. But you learn from every one of them, you learn from every single orchestra you play with, you learn from every single conductor you play with, and from your own self, of course. So it's always a process, and it's just amazing to hear this music.

Brian McCreath It's amazing for us to hear you play it. So, Baiba Skride, thank you so much for the performance this week and for being here again. It's so good to have you back. We always love it when you come to Boston.

Baiba Skride Oh, thank you so much. I'm so glad to be here.