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Celebrate the artistry of the San Francisco Symphony when Concertmaster and violin soloist Alexander Barantschik leads a rousing performance of J.S. Bach’s ebullient E major Violin Concerto. Then, experience Shostakovich’s intense and probing wartime monument, the Eighth Symphony, under the direction of conductor Juraj Valčuha.
Symphony No. 8
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
At A Glance
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 ca. 1720 | 19 mins
Johann Sebastian Bach was renowned in his day as a keyboard virtuoso, but he was also a skilled violinist. Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel recalled of his father: “He completely understood the possibilities of all stringed instruments.” Bach supplied violinists with an abundance of surpassing masterpieces, including the E major Violin Concerto. The concerto bursts with Bach's admiration for the newfangled Italian style of Vivaldi, particularly in the opening movement, which is structured like an Italian opera aria of the time. The second movement is a deeply serious Adagio with music that reaches extraordinary heights of pathos in the rhapsodic violin part. One could easily dance to the all-but-waltzing final rondo, in which the violin’s solo sections escalate in virtuosity. Read More
Symphony No. 8 1943 | 62 mins
As a creative artist under Communist rule, Shostakovich saw his official status seesaw between champion of Soviet music and toxic pariah. At the time he wrote his Eighth Symphony in 1943, he was still riding high from the immense success of his Leningrad Symphony. The idyll would not last, however, as the premiere of the unorthodox Eighth left some puzzled and the work was quickly lost from view. Perhaps if Shostakovich had given the Eighth the sort of slam-bang ending he had found for his first seven symphonies the work would have enjoyed a different fate. But then nothing in this symphony is conventional, especially how Shostakovich rethinks symphonic design in the mold of his beloved Mahler. The first movement is by itself a little under half the entire symphony. Then comes a sequence of three marches of varying character—ranging from the heroic (or is it mock heroic?) to the funereal. Then the finale, reserved and brief. In his typical fashion, Shostakovich keeps the symphony’s true meaning a mystery. One clue is offered by a newspaper article the composer penned in which, reflecting on the Eighth’s final movement, he noted: “Life is beautiful. All that is dark and ignominious will disappear. All that is beautiful will triumph.” Read More
Steven Ziegler is Managing Editor at the San Francisco Symphony