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Shostakovich and Yevtushenko

Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

The BPO offers a memorable all-Shostakovich program

BPO music director JoAnn Falletta will be on the podium on Friday, November 2 at 10:30am, and Saturday, November 3 at 8pm, in a program featuring Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (“Babi Yar”), with Metropolitan Opera bass Mikhail Svetlov and the men of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus.

Shostakovich set five texts by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in his 1962 Symphony No.13, for bass, male chorus and orchestra, leading some critics to describe the work as a song cycle, or a symphonic cantata, rather than a symphony. Yevtushenko, who will be present at these concerts as an honored guest, will recite his poem “Babi Yar” before the performance of the symphony.

Yevtushenko wrote “Babi Yar” in 1961, breaking the conspiracy of silence about the September 1941 two-day massacre of an estimated 34,000 Jews at a ravine outside of Kiev by Nazi SS forces during World War II, the largest single mass killing for which the Nazi regime and its collaborators were responsible during the invasion of the Soviet Union. While the Soviet government acknowledged that many tens of thousands of Soviet citizens, including Ukrainians, gypsies, and POWs, were massacred at Babi Yar, it refused to specifically acknowledge the genocidal nature of the mass liquidation of the Jewish population of Kiev. Yevtushenko’s poem denounced both the Soviet distortion of this historical fact along with European anti-Semitism generally and anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.

In the book Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, the composer says “the poem astounded me. Many had heard about Babi Yar, but it took Yevtushenko’s poem to make them aware of it. They tried to destroy the memory of Babi Yar, but after Yevtushenko’s poem, it became clear that it would never be forgotten. That is the power of art. People knew about Babi Yar before Yevtushenko’s poem, but they were silent. And when they read the poem, the silence was broken. Art destroys silence.”

Shostakovich sets the text of “Babi Yar” in the emotionally powerful first movement, an adagio. The composer selected unconnected poems by Yevtushenko as texts for the other four movements, including the bitingly sardonic “Humor,” the lamentful “In the Store,” the moving “Fears,” with its echoes of the Stalinist years of terror, and the ironic comment on state bureaucracy, “Career.”

While Shostakovich composed 15 symphonies before his death in 1975, their performance history outside of Russia has been checkered. The most popular of his symphonies, the Symphony No. 5, has been performed very often by American and European orchestras, including 10 performances by the BPO. The much darker Symphony No. 10 has had five performances; the uncharacteristically cheerful Symphony No. 9—for which the composer suffered severe official criticism—had three performances; and his youthfully exuberant Symphony No. 1, along with the Symphony No. 8 and the Symphony No. 11, have each received a pair of performances. Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”), along with the Symphony No. 13, have received only one performance each, with the sole previous performance of the latter having taken place almost 40 years ago. The other seven symphonies by Shostakovich have never been performed by the BPO.

American pianist Michael Boriskin will be the soloist in what will be the BPO premiere of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a distinctly lighthearted work that he composed in 1957 for his son Maxim’s 19th birthday, and which Maxim premiered during his graduation at the Moscow Conservatory.

Angels of Loveliness

Suzanne Fatta, a Western New York native, is a female baritone who recently returned to the area after spending the last five years singing opera, classical, and early music professionally in the UK and across Europe. On Saturday, November 3 at 10:30am, she will give a free lecture and performance in Rockwell Hall on the Buffalo State Campus, on the little-known history of low female voices in Western classical music, with a special emphasis on baroque music, featuring works by Monteverdi, Boismortier, Telemann, and Cavalieri, accompanied by Ivan Docenko, harpsichord, Nancy Nuzzo, viola da gamba, and Holly Bewlay, soprano.

On Sunday, November 4 at 4pm, Fatta will offer another lecture and performance at St. Joseph’s University Church on Main Street in Buffalo, examining the British group called Vivaldi’s Women, who perform the music of Vivaldi and contemporaries with female tenors and basses. Sunday’s performance, with guest artists Ivan Docenko, piano, and Leah Schneider, soprano, will include works by Mozart, Schumann, and Poulenc, along with two North American premieres. Admission to this event is free and open to the public, with all donations received at the door benefiting the church.

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