STAGE TUBE: Preview of NY Phil's Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11, 10/17-19

STAGE TUBE: Preview of NY Phil's Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11, 10/17-19

The NY Philharmonic presents Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Kirill Gerstein is the soloist. The program, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, closes with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11, The Year 1905, which vividly depicts the tragic Russian Revolution of 1905. Check out the video below!

Niccolò Paganini was the flamboyant violin superstar of the 19th century, and he knew how to wow his audience; his talents were so incredible that he was said to be in league with the devil. Among the works he composed to show off his technical wizardry were his notoriously difficult 24 Caprices for Solo Violin (1805). So it seems entirely appropriate that a wizard of the piano - Sergei Rachmaninoff - should take the 24th of these caprices and write his own notoriously difficult 24 variations for piano and orchestra. The Rhapsody became his signature piece, which he performed often and to great acclaim. The work was perfect for him, known for his long, slender fingers and formidable hand span (reaching an interval of 13 notes, equal to about 12 inches!), though even he admitted, "The composition is very difficult, and I should start practicing it." He premiered it with The Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski shortly after completing it. The 24 variations fall into roughly three movement-like groups: Variations 1-11, 12-18, and the final 19-24. Highlights include the 7th, with its echoes of the terrifying medieval chant Dies irae (Day of Wrath) and the ultra-romantic 18th, which is Paganini's theme turned upside down. We swoon over this "biggest hit" of Rachmaninoff, and the last section never fails to leave listeners enthralled. Yet, when all seems to be approaching a bombastic end with a pounding reprise of the Dies irae and a series of knuckle-busting runs, the composer ends with a sly, soft little "curlicue." (Pop culture fun fact: on the sound track of the movie Groundhog Day Bill Murray's character plays a little of the 18th variation on electric keyboard, followed by his own jazz variation.)

By now, we know about Shostakovich's fraught relationship with the repressive Soviet regime - particularly with Stalin and his cultural henchmen. The composer's artistic fortunes were an emotional rollercoaster, from his early role as a golden boy after the 19-year old wrote his First Symphony, through his vilification resulting from the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District, to his rehabilitation with his Fifth Symphony ... and so on. When Stalin died in 1953, Shostakovich's creative struggles were by no means over. Completed in 1957, the Symphony No. 11, with its subtitle "The Year 1905," struck a chord with listeners. That was the year when hundreds of petitioners - poor peasants and factory workers - demonstrated in front of the Tsar's Winter Palace, only to be brutally killed by the Cossack guards. The composer vividly depicts those events, announced in the movement titles: the frigid bleakness of "The Palace Square," with its ominous timpani rhythms and cold brass calls; the second, "The Ninth of January," which references Bloody Sunday, the day of the massacre; the third, "Eternal Memory," a lament - a sort of requiem - for the victims and, ultimately, for all victims of tyranny. The symphony's finale "Tocsin" sounds the alarm bell, foreshadowing terrors to come (and not so subtly reminding the listener of the contemporaneous invasion of Hungary in 1956). The music is filled with rage, unleashed at powerful dynamic levels. Unlike his previous symphonies, Shostakovich wove nine well-known Russian revolutionary and folk songs into the fabric of this epic creation, all of which are blended in a kind of apotheosis in the triumphant finale. The composer's friend Lev Lebedinsky wrote that these songs represent the main protagonists in a drama, one in which the depicted events are clearly not of the past but very much of the present.... Not everyone grasped the contemporary implications of the Eleventh Symphony. In Russia, it is, after all, common practice for artists to resort to the life-saving language of folk-song." Ironically, Shostakovich was awarded the Lenin Prize for the Eleventh in 1958.

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STAGE TUBE: Preview of NY Phil's Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11, 10/17-19