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Shostakovich’s Dark Meditations, with Skride and the BSO

Baiba Skride
Marco Borggreve

Saturday, January 28, 2023
8:00 PM

Encore broadcast on Monday, February 6

Latvian violinist Baiba Skride returns to the Boston Symphony for Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 2, and Andris Nelsons conducts in the world premiere of Steven Mackey’s Concerto for Curved Space as well as Brahms’s Symphony No. 4.

Andris Nelsons, conductor
Baiba Skride, violin

Steven MACKEY Concerto for Curved Space, for orchestra (world premiere)
SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 2
BRAHMS Symphony No. 4

This concert is no longer available on demand.

To hear a preview of Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 2 with soloist Baiba Skride, use the player above, and read the transcript below:


Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Baiba Skride, who's back with the Boston Symphony. Shostakovich, once again, just like last year, but the Second Concerto. Baiba, thank you for a little bit of your time today. I appreciate it.

Baiba Skride Oh, thank you so much for having me here. I'm so excited to be back with this orchestra, which I know quite well by now. And I'm so, so, so excited to play particularly this concerto, which is one of the most amazing pieces written in the last century.

Brian McCreath And I think this might mark ten years since the first time you played with the BSO, something like that, I think, you've been here a lot, which is great for us. But let's talk about the Second Violin Concerto. You did the First Violin Concerto of Shostakovich last year, but this Second is very different. And without getting too much into the details, I just want to ask you about the very opening notes, so striking, because you're so soft, just entering kind of out of nowhere with this very low, quiet accompaniment from the orchestra. What is your feeling in those first few notes that you're playing? How do you sort of prepare yourself to get just the right feel of those notes?

Baiba Skride Well, it's always helpful when the orchestra starts already, the atmosphere. I mean, I literally have only 2 bars to prepare, before to play, which is actually a good thing because I'm then right away inside the piece. But Andris said a beautiful thing about these first two bars. And he said, you know, it's like an unfinished sentence when the orchestra plays. So it's kind of cut off. And I'm the one who is kind of starting to find the way into the whole piece and trying to find the way to speak out or to speak about. So I feel like that. I'm searching, and very much in the beginning, it's a search.

But this whole concerto, it's so deep and intimate and so, so personal from him. It's not flashy in whatsoever way. All these themes that he plays, they are quite simple in a way. But that's what brings this incredible pain to the piece. I mean, he was so scared of dying. And, you know, it's one of the last pieces. And this fourth, which occurs through the whole concerto, the fourth, it reminded him always of the ambulance coming. And so it has all the time something to do with his death or his fear of death. And yeah, it's just searching, searching maybe for a way out or some other place or something like that. Well, that's my interpretation. But it's one of those pieces which is really, really, really deep and without saying much.

Brian McCreath But you have said a lot just in those few sentences that I'm so curious about. And when you say the fourth, you mean the interval of the fourth, which we hear in an ambulance siren in some countries, [sings], that kind of thing. I think that's what you mean, right?

Baiba Skride Yeah, exactly. So it was not clear about that. But that's the interval [of the] fourth. And he uses that a lot in his later pieces and also in the Violin Sonata, there's a lot of it, and in this concerto also other pieces. So it seems that it was always on his mind.

Brian McCreath And not to veer too far away from the sort of deeper meanings and the themes of the piece itself, but those first notes fascinate me, and I'm really grateful for you mentioning what Andris said about them. From a performer perspective, it feels from the outside, just listening to you, like it takes more than the usual degree of trust in your orchestra. When you begin playing those notes, it has to be just right there for you. And I wonder if that's an accurate way to describe it. And then, also, that this maybe is one of those places, in the very opening, where so much depends on the hall that you're in to get the right sound, to get the right kind of feedback and the right feel in those sounds. Is that accurate?

Baiba Skride Well, that might be true most of the time, probably, yes. But of course, when you play with Boston Symphony and with Andris, they are so amazing. And you can get the atmosphere straight in the beginning from the very first note and even in the first rehearsal. I mean, it's incredible how they understand what Andris wants. And also Andris knows what I want. And we've played the piece a couple of times together. We know each other already quite well in that piece. So we kind of all understand each other. But you're absolutely right. It's quite difficult to dive straight into it. And you need a couple of moments of silence before you start this piece, for sure, because also the audience has to feel that there's something... What's going to come up now? You know, you get suspenseful ,and you try to figure out, so what's going to sound now? So it's a very, very interesting beginning.

Brian McCreath So you mentioned that the piece is so deep and comes from later in Shostakovich's life. It's not played as often as the First Violin Concerto. And in fact, I don't know if you know this, it's only been on one other program at the Boston Symphony. The only other time it was played was, I think in 1992 or -3. Gidon Kremer played it. And that's it. How long has this piece been in your own repertoire? How long have you played the Second Violin Concerto?

Baiba Skride Well, that's incredible to hear because, exactly like was the [Shostakovich] Cello Concertos also, people usually actually do prefer the second one because it's more intimate. But for some reason the first one gets to be played more often.

Well, I've always been an advocate for this concerto, even though I, of course, also started with the Number One. But when I was learning the Number One, I was listening to the Second Concerto very often and it was always my wish. So since I'm young, I'm really trying to always push for it and play it in places becaise I really think it's the most amazing music. And yes, it doesn't get played so much because it's not as flashy for the violinist. I mean, if you go to competitions or you want to make a first impression, this is... With this piece, it might be difficult for some young musicians. So it's not one of those, like Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, or Shostakovich 1 that you can really show off. There's nothing much to show off, apart from your musicality, which takes some time probably in your life to arrive to the point that you love this music that much. So it's one of those mature things, not that I'm saying that young people couldn't play it. I think that there must be amazing players to do that. But just to like it as much as you want to portray to audiences, that might take some time.

Brian McCreath Sure, sure. And the piece itself seems also, maybe, not to be that kind of competition piece because it's different from the dialog you often hear in a concerto between a soloist and orchestra. It feels like there's more of an integrated voice, the orchestra and soloist are working together more. And there's these amazing effects that Shostakovich built in, the sort of combinations of woodwinds and pizzicato string playing, and you're sort of on top of all of that. It's less of the sort of flashy soloist with an orchestra, and more of an entire entity that's playing together.

Baiba Skride Yeah. And you can see also from the instrumentation, there's a lot more chamber music way of playing with orchestra players, even with the strings, even if it's an orchestra, it's much more intimate together. And like, for example, as much as I love the third movement in the First Concerto, the slow movement, I mean, this one is basically so simple that there is not one of these big dramas happening or anything. It's just basic, simple melody. And then you build on that. And of course, the first one is one of the most beautiful slow movements. But this one has some other substance, so it's difficult to compare. But I can understand why the first one is much more accepted in a way in the audiences. But I'm really, really, really fighting for this concerto to be played as often as possible.

Brian McCreath Well, the other thing about this concerto, like the first is that it was written for David Oistrakh, and we talked about that last year when you were here for the First Concerto. And it's almost as though his shadow is over this piece as much as Shostakovich's himself, right? And so I just wonder how you feel as the soloist with that kind of player associated with this concerto?

Baiba Skride Well, of course, I have the biggest respect for players like Oistrakh and anybody else who touches this piece or any kind of piece. I listen to all kinds of recordings, and I respect everything, every kind of interpretation. I have the deepest, deepest respect for that. But of course, at some point you have to distance yourself from, from... You learn from the experiences that you hear on the recording that Oistrakh did, for example. But then at some point you have to also be a bit away and try to find your own way with it. And I've been growing up with Shostakovich all my life. I feel very close to this music, and regardless of how other people might have interpreted it, I hope I have something to say with my own feelings. Of course I try to follow the text and all the things that I can learn from old recordings. But of course it has to become yours if you want to be convincing.

Brian McCreath Wonderful. Well, Baiba Skride, it's great to have you back in Boston and wonderful to hear you play Shostakovich again with Andris and the BSO. Thanks for your time today.

Baiba Skride Thank you so much.