Remembering Yuri Temirkanov

Yuri Temirkanov, the renowned Russian conductor, passed away last Thursday, November 2, in St. Petersburg. He was 84. From the time of his appointment as artistic director in 1988, Temirkanov was credited with restoring the brilliance of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Between 2000 and 2006, he served as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Additional titles included principal guest conductor of …

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Shostakovich’s Impromptu for Viola and Piano: Paul Neubauer and Wu Han

In 2017, a previously unknown work by Dmitri Shostakovich was discovered in Moscow’s Central Archives among the documents of Vadim Borisovsky (the longtime violist of the Beethoven Quartet). It was a brief, unassuming piece entitled, Impromptu for Viola and Piano, Op. 33. The autograph on the title page was dated, May 2, 1931, and was dedicated to “Alexander Mikhailovich…in memory of our meeting.” It is assumed that this was actually Alexander Ryvkin, the …

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Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto: Sardonic and Defiant

In his later years, the cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, recalled a conversation that he had with Nina Vasilyevna, the wife of Dmitri Shostakovich. Rostropovich wondered what he could do to encourage Shostakovich to write a concerto for the cello. “Slava,” she answered, “if you want Dmitri Dmitriyevich to write something for you, the only recipe I can give you is this—never ask him or talk to him about it.” Eventually, in July of …

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Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3 in F Major: Haunting Ambiguities

Dmitri Shostakovich composed the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major in 1946 in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. The previous year, his controversial Ninth Symphony shocked audiences and upset the Soviet authorities. It had not been the epic, monumental “victory” symphony everyone had been expecting. Instead, it was light, classical, seemingly frivolous music. Taken at face value, the Ninth Symphony delivered bright music filled with joie de vivre. …

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Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata: A Farewell

The Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147, was Dmitri Shostakovich’s final work. The score was completed on July 5, 1975, a day before the composer entered the hospital where, just over a month later, he would succumb to the effects of terminal heart disease and lung cancer. Shostakovich seems to have considered the Viola Sonata to be a final farewell. All three of its movements conclude with the instruction, morendo, or “dying …

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Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto: Dangerous Music for the “Desk Drawer”

The music of Dmitri Shostakovich falls into two categories. There are the faceless proletarian marches, patriotic hymns, propagandistic film scores, and other superficial works which were written to appease Stalin and his cultural censors. Then, there is the music that Shostakovich dared not release publicly until after Stalin’s death in 1953. Much of this music ended up hidden in the composer’s “desk drawer.” The Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor was …

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Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 1: A Spring-Like Divertimento

Dmitri Shostakovich composed fifteen symphonies and fifteen string quartets. The symphonies deliver drama on a grand, public scale. Many, such as Symphony No. 7, “Leningrad,” and Symphony No. 11, “The Year 1905,” have programmatic associations. They are filled with irony, double meaning, and coded messages. They are the music of a composer who lived continuously under mortal threat of displeasing Stalin and his Soviet cultural censors. At times equally haunting, melancholy, and …

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