The San Diego Symphony is on a roll! The previous two concerts, which I have attended, have been nothing short of spectacular. The most recent endeavor was Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11: “The Year 1905”. San Diego Symphony music director Rafael Payare conducted and Stefan Jackiw provided the solo violin for the Beethoven.
Interview with violinist Stefan Jackiw
Garrett Harris interviews Beethoven soloist before the San Diego Symphony performance.
Concerning Stefan Jackiw, you will not find a more intelligent or engaged musician anywhere on the world stage. His approach to Beethoven was appropriately athletic when required while pushing the limits of lyricism with the delicacy of his phrasing.
I chose to sit in the second to last row of the balcony and Jackiw’s tone effortlessly rang out to the back of the house, without any decay. Payare controlled the dynamics of the orchestra so that Jackiw's sound was front and center.
Shostakovich Symphony No. 11 reviewed
Garrett Harris and John Polhamus recount the San Diego Symphony concert
I can’t say enough about where this orchestra is headed with Payare but I’m about to try with the Shostakovich Symphony No. 11.
Before the Shostakovich, there was a brief documentary film regarding “The Year 1905.” The central event which the symphony, written in 1957, portrays is the massacre on January 22, 1905, known as Bloody Sunday. Thousands of workers came to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to petition Tsar Nicholas II. The palace guards opened fire and rode the gathering down with calvary. The event led to revolutionary activities throughout the rest of the year.
The film then went on to mention several songs of the revolution which Shostakovich incorporated into the symphony. However, the film inexplicably toed the party line claiming Shostakovich never commented on the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Shostakovich biographer Elizabeth Wilson quotes Shostakovich as saying, “Don't forget that I wrote the symphony in the aftermath of Hungarian Uprising.”
Beyond that, the themes of the revolutionary songs in the 11th Symphony have an air of menace about them and are most definitely not triumphant. Some claim that this symphony was written by Shostakovich as a requiem for his entire generation — a generation that had been withered by Stalin’s purges and then thrown at Hitler’s invasion as so much cannon fodder.
The performance got off to a shaky start with obvious errors from the solo trumpet and horn along with a trombonist dropping a mute to the floor. A mute hitting a wood floor is anything but mute. I bring these items up because a clean performance is always expected.
In this case, these missteps did not matter because of the hour and fifteen minutes of absolutely monumental music-making that followed. This was the best performance I’ve heard the orchestra give under Payare. I found it to be more satisfying, by far, than the opening night performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.
Payare next conducts the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 on March 28 and 29.