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Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Karina Canellakis makes her San Francisco Symphony debut in a presentation of music by two Russian heavyweights: Prokofiev’s ravishingly colorful and percussive Piano Concerto No. 1, played by the Ukranian piano powerhouse Alexander Gavrylyuk (who also makes his SF Symphony debut at these concerts), and Shostakovich’s defiant 1941 bombshell, the Leningrad Symphony.
In the twilight of Imperial Russia, a brazen 21-year-old pianist submitted his own concerto as a graduation piece. A sassy and whimsical fantasy written for a formidable soloist (himself), the 1912 Piano Concerto No. 1 by Prokofiev scandalized the old guard. Less than thirty years later, Shostakovich unveiled his Seventh Symphony, but Russia was a different place. The old guard was all but extinguished; Stalin had prosecuted his Great Terror, and Hitler held Leningrad under siege.
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
At A Glance
Piano Concerto No. 1 1911 | 16 mins
Sergei Prokofiev was still a student when he premiered his Piano Concerto No. 1. He applied himself conscientiously to learning the piano part, writing to his friend Vasily Morelev, “it’s the first time I’ll have played with an orchestra” and “I have to know it by heart to play it confidently.” The Piano Concerto No. 1 is a tightly constructed piece, its three movements (which are connected without pauses between) running only a bit longer than fifteen minutes. What is most remarkable is the extent to which this “first more-or-less mature composition” (as the composer called it) truly sounds like what would come to be considered Prokofievian. But Modernism is crouching tensely in this piece, waiting to spring forth with the exuberance of the Prokofiev scores that would follow shortly. Read More
Symphony No. 7, Leningrad 1941 | 70 mins
Dmitri Shostakovich had begun his Symphony No. 7 before the Siege of Leningrad, during which German forces choked off his home city for 872 dismal days of 1942, 1943, and 1944. Still, he wrote much of it when the Siege was going on, while he and his family were evacuated to the relative safety of the Russian interior. It is a programmatic symphony to some degree, although Shostakovich wrote: “I am not aiming for the naturalistic depiction of war, the depiction of the clatter of arms, the explosion of shells, and so on. I am trying to convey the image of war emotionally.” The four movements may trace the onset of war, memories of better times, inward passions, and grandly scaled victory. Read More