Banned and Boycotted: Music of Bartók and Shostakovich 

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Few rival Bartók and Shostakovich in writing works both socially resonant and disruptive. Despite roots in the folk music tradition, Bartók’s beguiling ballet score, The Miraculous Mandarin, faced censorship in the composer’s home country during his lifetime. The lurid tale of prostitution, theft, fraud, and murder was deemed too depraved and perverse for the public, and its deviance emerged like a shriek from the moral vacuum of World War I.  

A beleaguered Shostakovich, long subjected to brutal bullying by the government under the Stalin regime, kept his sardonic Violin Concerto No. 1 hidden for years. When he finally felt it was safe to share it with the public, he deliberately printed its early composition date—a wordless reminder to all of the political atmosphere that had choked its creation. 

Conductor Jakub Hrůša, the SF Symphony, and violinist Karen Gomyo join forces for this powerful and creatively defiant program.


Conductor/Performers

Jakub Hrůša

Conductor

Karen Gomyo

Violin

San Francisco Symphony

Program

Shostakovich

Violin Concerto No. 1

Borodin

Symphony No. 2

Bartók

Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.

Podcasts

Shostakovich Violin Concerto and Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin
 

At A Glance

SHOSTAKOVICH
Violin Concerto No. 1 1948  | 36 mins

In the mid-twentieth century, the Soviet arts policy was committed to the idea that to be worth anything, a work had to make a political or ideological statement—of course, a “correct” one. Dmitri Shostakovich’s position in relation to that policy was never wholly secure. In the interest of self-preservation, the composer kept this sardonic concerto locked away for years in a private desk drawer. When he finally felt it was safe to share with the public, he deliberately printed its early opus number (indicating the true date of its composition)—a wordless reminder of the political atmosphere that had choked its creation. LISTEN FOR: The third movement ends in an immense cadenza for the soloist, which builds from mournfulness into total abandon, recalling melodies from earlier in the concerto.  More |

BORODIN
Symphony No. 2  1876 | 28 mins

Alexander Borodin was a research chemist by trade, but his non-working hours were given over to music. Together with an odd assemblage of part-time composers—namely Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, and Mussorgsky—Borodin was a member of the “Mighty Handful.” Many of Borodin’s masterworks, such as his Second Symphony, reflect the group’s passionate embrace of Russian folk sources. LISTEN FOR: A contemporary critic posited that Borodin had a program in mind for this symphony. The first movement would be a gathering of Russian warriors; the third, a bayan, or mythic bard; and the fourth, a “scene of heroes feasting to the sound of the gusli [a folk instrument of the zither family] amid the exultation of a great host of people.” DID YOU KNOW? The powerful outburst that begins the symphony was borrowed (along with various other Borodin tunes) to generate the Broadway musical Kismet in 1953. More |

BARTÓK
Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin   1919  | 22 mins

Béla Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin—a lurid tale of prostitution, fraud, theft, and murder—was censored for being too depraved and perverse for the public. It opens with a clamorous depiction of the big city: “I lead the highly respectable listener from the crowded streets of a metropolis to a [ruffian’s] den,” Bartók wrote. From there the music tracks the events of the storyline with music that suffocates and overwhelms. It is this harsh, pounding music that is woven throughout the piece, signaling violence. LISTEN FOR: This is a standout piece for the clarinet not only for the difficulty of its part, but for the irresistible episodes of lyric beauty that contrast with the overall atmosphere. The clarinet’s serpentine and seductive phrases epitomize the sultry “songs of allurement” of one of the main characters in the plot—a beautiful girl—and are testament to Bartók’s inimitable storytelling talents. More |

JEANETTE YU is Editorial Director and STEVEN ZIEGLER is Managing Editor at the San Francisco Symphony.

Buy Tickets

  1. Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 8:00pm

    Davies Symphony Hall

  2. Fri, Nov 9, 2018 at 8:00pm

    Davies Symphony Hall

  3. Sat, Nov 10, 2018 at 8:00pm

    Davies Symphony Hall

If you would like assistance purchasing tickets for patrons with disabilities, please call the box office at 415-864-6000.

Pre- and post-show Events

Inside Music: an informative talk by Elizabeth Seitz, begins one hour prior to concerts. Free to ticketholders. Learn More.

Off-The-Podium: a post-concert Q & A opportunity for the audience to ask questions of Jakub Hrůša & Karen Gomyo.

Program Support

Sponsored by Jones Day