ROSTROPOVICH 75TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
Venue: The Orpheum
Date: 25 January 2003
Slava! A political overture
Given the contrast
in political climate between Russia and the US at the time this was written,
I was intrigued by Bernstein's tribute to Rostropovich in the repertoire
for tonight's concert.
a Jewish American composer, started out as a sophisticated "art"
composer, but found fulfillment in a world at least allied to commercial
theater. The evening's tribute based on his unsuccessful musical 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue bore all the hallmarks of a 'curtain raiser',
including the use of a pre- recorded tape of political campaign rhetoric.
an immediate response from both audience and orchestra as soon as he walked
to the rostrum. There was a sense of celebration as the players responded
to the rhythms and cross rhythms The dynamic extended percussion section,
glorious trumpets and bright string sound, the final shout of SLAVA (Rostropovich's
nickname meaning glory) created a rousing start. By the end of the overture
it was in part apparent why 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue had never been successful.
However, re-written as a gesture of friendship to a close colleague on
his appointment as music director to the Washington Symphony, it was a
fitting tribute to a world-class musician.
Symphony no. 9 in E -flat major op. 70
Composed just after
the allied victory in 1945 and first performed in Leningrad. Of the score
he wrote, "musicians will love to play it and the critics will love
to bash it." And bash it they did. Stalin was furious that there
was no choir soloist or extended orchestra to hail him as leader. The
response of the people however, was one of approval. Although
the 9th contains the traditional contrast in movements, the first, third
and final movement contain a scherzotic feel where playful tunes banter
between the second and fourth (the last movements are played without pause.)
In the opening movement,
the VSO created a carnival mood with flinty virtuosity. The exceptional
talent demonstrated by the high wind and piccolo elicited applause. A
moment's composure was needed before proceeding to the second movement.
Rostropovich was able
to contain the mood. Despite interruption, the VSO moved into a hauntingly
beautiful melody played by the clarinet, floating above gentle string
pizzicato. The third movement marked Presto began with ecstatic
high woodwind, interspersed with precise and lively triplets from the
The Largo bore
a more solemn message, carried by one of the most exquisitely rendered
bassoon solos in the repertoire. The listener can detect a memorial to
those lost at war. Lyrical phrases hover over redeeming chords in the
the finale, reminiscent of a Russian circus, the music vaults and tumbles
to a virtuoso close. Rostropovich is aware of every player in the orchestra
and they are aware of him .The energy was tangible and the applause rapturous.
The piccolo and bassoon players, in particular, received the accolade
Symphony No.5 in E minor Op.64
the 5th Symphony at his house in Grovolske in the summer of 1888. It was
first performed on 17 November that year. Tchaikovsky's six symphonies
span the breadth of his career and portray the emotional life of the composer
with remarkable accuracy It is a journey from despair to hope and Rostropovich
with the VSO took us on that same journey musically.
The 5th Symphony is
relaxed with over half the music expressed in warm major keys. The opening
melancholic melody, beautifully played by the clarinets, announced the
motto theme that recurs throughout. The VSO wove a carpet of sound rich
in both texture and tone. The waltz was bright and rhythmic despite slightly
uncertain places where the beat was overanticipated. The magnificent romantic
melody for solo horn in the Andante was so emotionally involving that
analysis becomes redundant The final grandiose repeat of the motto theme
in the major key makes way for a brilliant coda for full orchestra.
This evening, we experienced
the VSO not just playing notes, but making music and evoking deep emotion.
Rostropovich, loved and revered by so many, has both the maturity and
musicianship to communicate his experience of pain and joy, oppression
and freedom, fear and courage. He hardly uses the baton. He is able to
guide direct and draw the sound from the players in a way we seldom witness.
None of life's experiences have diminished the stature of this remarkable
man known as 'SLAVA'
We would like to express
our appreciation to Rostropovich for his visit and wish him a Happy 75th.