Behind the Program: Rachel Barton Pine Plays Khachaturian, October 18–20

This program brings together music by the three greatest composers of the old Soviet Union, beginning with Prokofiev’s tongue-in-cheek music from the film Lieutenant Kijé. Based on a satirical novel by Yuri Tynyanov, Lieutenant Kijé tells the story of a soldier whose existence was invented to keep his superiors out of trouble. Prokofiev’s suite contains some delightfully wry and witty music; one interesting bit of orchestration is his prominent use of a tenor saxophone, which replaces the baritone singer of the film score.

The sensational violinist Rachel Barton Pine makes her first appearance with the Madison Symphony Orchestra playing Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto, a work deeply influenced by the music of Armenia, the composer’s homeland. Khachaturian was inspired by the artistry of his friend David Oistrakh, the Soviet Union’s leading violin virtuoso, who advised him throughout his composition of the concerto. The composer later wrote “I worked without effort…Sometimes my thoughts and imagination outraced the hand that was covering the staff with notes. The themes came to me in such abundance that I had a hard time putting them in some order.” The concerto was wildly successful when Oistrakh played the premiere that fall.

We end with Shostakovich’s ninth symphony, a sometimes sarcastic work written at the end of the Great Patriotic War…and one that got Shostakovich in trouble with Stalin’s artistic bureaucracy. His seventh and eighth symphonies were enormous, powerful works that take their cues from events in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War. Shostakovich dropped hints that he would round out a trilogy with a symphony celebrating Soviet victory, but at the war’s end in 1945, he found that he had little desire to create yet another glorification of Stalin. His Symphony No. 9, composed relatively quickly during the summer of that year, is a miniature in composition to the wartime works. The piece was received with unfavorable reception from the critics and the piece was banned in the Soviet Union for the remainder of his life and not recorded until 1956.

Learn more about these pieces from Michael Allsen, our program notes annotator.

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