Hello all,

Our music for this week is the “Konzertmusik for String Orchestra and Brass, Opus 50” by German composer Paul Hindemith. The Konzertmusik was written in 1930 at the request of legendary Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Serge Koussevitzky. It is the third “Konzertmusik” written by Hindemith in the year 1930, pairing with the “Konzertmusik for Viola and Chamber Orchestra” and the “Konzertmusik for Piano, Brass, and Harp.”

Hindemith, who lived from 1865 to 1963, is a contemporary of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartok, and other mid-twentieth century composers whose music reflects the experience of living through two world wars. (Hindemith, whose wife was Jewish, was particularly shaped by the second world war). His music incorporates atonal strains of Romantic-era lyricism with jarring infusions of post-modern orchestration. Like other composers of this time, Hindemith sought to portray the struggle of rebuilding society in the wake of international conflict. In particular, he embraced the globalization of culture, language, and artistic heritage. His music reflects this viewpoint; one can hear the melodic lines of Italian opera, the full-blooded strength of the late Romantic era, the intrigue of Ravel’s turn-of-the-century Orientalism, and much more.

There are two parts to the Konzertmusik: Massig schnell, mit Kraft – Sehr breit, aber stets fliebend (“moderately fast, with power – very broad, but always flowing) and Lebhaft – Langsam – Im ersten Zeitmab (“Fast – Slow – Tempo primo”). These descriptions are, I believe, helpful when listening to this work. The varying tempi of this composition can make it difficult to pick out its melodic patterns, so having a perspective of “very broad, but always flowing” is instructive for understanding the atmosphere the composer is trying to convey.



The Year 1905

Hello all,

Our music for today is the second movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony #11, which carries the subtitle “The Year 1905.” The symphony was written in 1957. The Boston Symphony Orchestra performs in the recording you will hear.

The subtitle refers to the political upheaval of the Russian Revolution of 1905. At the time he wrote the eleventh symphony, Shostakovich was in hot water with the Soviet administration for statements he had made several years earlier. After writing this symphony – which effectively glorified the Soviets’ military might – he was quickly accepted back into the regime’s good graces. Soon afterward, he was awarded the Lenin Prize and an official apology was issued regarding his previous mistreatment.

This second movement is one of the wildest pieces of music you’ll ever hear. It is completely out of control. It carries the subtitle “The 9th of January,” which refers to the violent events of Bloody Sunday at the Winter Palace. On that date, a group of peaceful demonstrators were gunned down by the Imperial Guard in an occurrence that is now regarded as the catalyst for the Russian Revolution of 1905.

The eerie opening theme (which is based on a folk song from Shostakovich’s childhood) represents the group of protestors walking to the Winter Palace to complain about the government’s corruption. The distant brass foreshadow the military might that is soon to confront them. Midway through the movement (at 11:18), a sudden crescendo builds into a series of explosions from the snare drum (gunfire) and strings (the footsteps of the marching soldiers). This part of the music can only be described as absolute insanity. The amount of sound that Shostakovich unleashes is overwhelming. Pounding bass drums, searing cymbals, relentless snare drum, and overwhelming brass create a mechanical and horrifying picture of the massacre. The main theme – which in my opinion is the most “Shostakovich-ian” melody of all time – comes roaring in at 13:29.



Elgar – violin concerto

Our music for this week is third movement of the Elgar violin concerto, as performed by the former concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Silverstein. We have listened to another interpretation of the Elgar concerto before, but it was not nearly as good as this one (it was mine 😉

This performance is worth listening to because of the soloist’s ability to create a unique and memorable sound. This may sound simple, but it is the hardest thing in the world to do. Most violinists out there could play this concerto, but very few of them could make it sound as if they were improvising the notes on the spot. This performance shows an uncanny ability and an incredible giftedness that is hard to find. I want to take a few sentences to highlight some of the ways that this performer stands head and shoulders above most other performers you will hear today.

First of all, the sound is unbelievable. It has an amazing richness and fullness that is so hard to create without adding tension to the body. At the same time, however, the sound is amazingly lyrical and sensitive.

Secondly, the sounds never ends. Silverstein has mastered the art of the bow stroke to such a level that even when he is playing sharper notes or faster passages he is able to connect the sound. This is particularly effective in a romantic era composition like the Elgar concerto, because a connected sound is a more lyrical sound.

Third, Silverstein has a wonderfully smooth and continuous vibrato that sounds as natural as the human voice. Again, this is incredibly hard to do. He uses this vibrato to further create an impression that his sound never ends.

Fourth, he is technically on point. His intonation and execution are impeccable. Well those elements are not necessarily the determining factors for a great performance, his combination of perfect execution and a seemingly endless sound makes his performance all the more impressive.

Fifth and finally, you’ll notice that he is not throwing himself all over the stage like many of today’s musicians do. He has the maturity, composure, and concentration to let the music speak for itself without interposing a gymnastics performance on the audience as a compensation prize. Any musician who moves in that manner is compensating for something that he or she does not have. Silverstein, however, is as close to a complete mastery of the violin as I have ever seen.