Valery Gergiev, on right, will conduct San Diego Symphony in October
Of all the special concerts over all the years, perhaps this one is the most special. Great orchestras such as The Philharmonia or The Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, among others, visit San Diego on a consistent basis. We get about one of these concerts per year.
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 in C Major
Mariinsky Theater Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, conductor
August 21, 2006, Berwaldhallen, Stockholm
Why is this year special and why am I writing about it six weeks early? Because this year we get Valery Gergiev and The Mariinsky Orchestra. It is difficult to say that Gergiev and The Mariinsky are qualitatively better than, say, the Royal Philharmonia, which visited a few years ago.
It is less difficult to say that Gergiev is the most accomplished conductor to take the podium in San Diego in quite some time. An argument could be made for Edo de Waart, who conducts the opening concerts of the 2018/19 Masterworks Series at The San Diego Symphony. While that’s a fair argument, Gergiev is the more influential conductor.
What makes this concert stand out is that the San Diego Symphony will be performing as well. The format of the concert is Gergiev conducting The Mariinsky then Gergiev conducting The San Diegans and then both orchestras will be combined to perform Shostakovich’s Herculean Symphony No. 7: Leningrad.
Shostakovich dedicated his Symphony No. 7 to the city of Leningrad and it had its premiere in that city in 1942 during the Nazi siege. For those who would see Nazi and Soviet ghosts within our current circumstances, perhaps attending a concert by a composer who suffered under both can provide some context.
In the meantime I’ll throw some numbers around. 632,000 people died during the siege of Leningrad. Cannibalism was widespread as the siege lasted three years. The estimate for total Russian losses during World War II is between 16 million and 24 million. The number of American casualties was 418,500.
Yet I keep hearing comments from my contemporaries about “these dangerous and challenging times.” Compared to what?
Twitter salvos damage no buildings. Facebook ads are non-lethal. How much privacy do stacks of frozen corpses have? My apologies for bringing up frozen corpses and cannibalism but if we are going to throw the totalitarian term around regarding our current political climate then we need to remember the devastation of totalitarianism in order to keep from being carried away by our own rhetoric.
The orchestra required by this symphony resembles something of an army. There are to be “at least” 16 first violins, 14 second violins, 12 violas, ten cellos, and eight double basses along with massive woodwind, brass, and percussion cohorts. It is Shostakovich’s “at least” comment which allows the combining of San Diego and the Mariinsky.
Should anyone desire a preview of the concert there is a recording of Gergiev and The Mariinsky performing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7. The recording can be found on Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube.
(See YouTube video above.)
The concert is Wednesday, October 24, 8:00 pm, in The Jacobs Music Center at Symphony Hall.