Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor
Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10
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Returning after a successful debut in the 2015-16 season, young conductor Krzysztof Urbański, hailed as “remarkable” and “gorgeously expressive” (San Francisco Chronicle), conducts Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto performed by Augustin Hadelich. The program continues with Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, which the composer completed just one year after Stalin’s death. This orchestral showpiece culminates in a celebratory march representing victory over an oppressive regime.
See Augustin Hadelich rehearse Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with Krzysztof Urbański and the SF Symphony.
At a Glance
Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima 1960 | 10 mins
Krzysztof Penderecki was horrified by the destruction brought on by the atomic bomb, but he also claimed that “this was not really political music . . . it was music that was appropriate to the time during which we were living in Poland.” Threnody may suggest many images to listeners—buzzing insects, shrieking sirens, a bomb exploding; some even think it sounds like electronic music transcribed for acoustic instruments. The musicians are instructed to use extended techniques that go far beyond normal string vocabulary, and to play at extremes of volume. The music seems to stand on the brink of chaos at many moments, but Penderecki manages to keep it under attentive control. DID YOU KNOW? There are no bar lines in the score; instead, the duration of pitches or gestures is indicated by timings, in seconds.
Violin Concerto in E minor, Opus 64 1844 | 27 mins
The orchestra begins by setting a pulsating backdrop. Across this, the violin surfaces, singing a soaring tune. About eight minutes in, Mr. Hadelich plays one of the most famous solos ever written for the violin. Then the concerto’s Andante emerges mysteriously with a lovely and sweet melody of surprising extension, beautifully harmonized and scored. Between the Andante and the finale Mendelssohn places a tiny and wistful intermezzo. The finale is sparkling and busy music whose gait allows room for swinging, broad tunes, as well as for the dazzling solo part. Mendelssohn steers the concerto to its close in a feast of high spirits and with a wonderful sense of “go.” DID YOU KNOW? You will hear the actual violin that was played at the world premiere of this piece at this concert! SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik now plays the distinguished 1742 Guarnerius del Gesù violin as part of a special arrangement with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Opus 93 1953 | 53 mins
Dmitri Shostakovich was one of music’s greatest reporters on the human condition. He was an essential composer who functioned in a society tyrannically demanding of its artists. It is hard to think of another whose work was so intensely affected by life—his own, but also that of the world in which and for which he wrote. His Tenth Symphony is viewed by many as a Stalin portrait. Its first movement is darkly brooding. This is troubled, wandering music that stops more than once, as though uncertain of its direction. The next movement, the supposed Stalin portrait, crashes forward at relentless speed and fury. This consummate savagery is followed by more leisurely music. Shostakovich literally inserts himself into the music using the German transliteration of his name (Schostakowitsch) and German musical notation (the sequence D/E-flat/C/B, for DSCH). A pensive horn call changes the mood. This mysterious summons occurs eleven more times, always evoking an intensely serious response in the orchestra. The finale begins with slow music—a meditative theme for low strings and a series of intensely expressive woodwind solos. LISTEN FOR: In the closing minutes, DSCH, with horns and then timpani to speak his name, steps forward to take a bow.
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.