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Shostakovich, Symphony #5

Jeff Matthews

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I can only speak for the DC area, but people dress down a lot more than they used to. Definitely suits ten or twenty years ago.

These days, all and any kinds for men -- suits, sport jackets, dressy casual shirts and sweaters -- you name it. However, Houston might be more upscale at cultural events than DC's sometimes frumpy mix-and-match (sic).

I myself would do sport coat/slacks and tie, or a suit. As a lawyer, you can't go wrong with a suit.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Jeff -- If you end up liking your upcoming concert, see if you can seats that good to a performance of The Planets by Gustav Holst. Unfortunately, I can't seem to copy a link that will take you directly to the YouTube page for videos from the DVD below. If you go to the YouTube page directly (search for "The Planets YouTube Salonen"), it may show you the series of thumbnails along the side, each that will each play part of each movement (seven, one for each planet known in 1918 except Earth) along with a very good explanation and guide. It's an utterly amazing work!

This will give your eye and ear both outstanding workouts as to what's what in classical music. This performance is also available on DVD, which I can unhesitatingly recommend for a budding CM library. SignumVision SIGDVD009.

I think it would be right up your new-found alley.

Larry Edited by LarryC
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The Houston Symphony put on The Planets with a slide show in January (http://www.houstonsymphony.org/Concerts-Tickets/Browse-Concerts/13-14-Season/13-14-Classical-Season):

The Planets and The Earth – An HD Odyssey
January 9, 11, 12, 2014
Andrés Orozco-Estrada,
Women of the Houston Symphony Chorus
Charles Hausmann,
The Earth – An HD Odyssey
Short Ride in a Fast Machine
R. Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra
The Planets – An HD Odyssey

Holst: The Planets

In this unprecedented multimedia event, the Houston Symphony will perform a back-to-back lineup of the first two installments in the HD Odyssey film series – The Planets and The Earth (formerly Orbit). See striking images in The Earth, shown on a giant screen above the orchestra, taken from NASA’s missions to Earth’s orbit,andaccompanied by Strauss’ epic tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra. Then, watch in awe as images of NASA’s exploration of the solar system are brought to life in vivid form with the orchestra’s performance of Holst’s The Planets. Note: Due to high demand, exchanges will not be allowed into this concert.

​I think you would have liked this concert.

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I am of the strong opinion that John Williams "lifted" Star Wars from Shostokovich.

BTW, mentioned in another thread that I'd listened to "Festival Overture" last evening. Rousing!

The Sheffield Moscow Sessions box LP set from 1986 has some really awesome performances in it.


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I am of the strong opinion that John Williams "lifted" Star Wars from Shostokovich.

John Williams is a great movie composer and I enjoy getting to play and listen to his stuff. However he borrows heavily from many composers. In the original Star Wars A New Hope score you will hear Stravinsky, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Prokofiev, Strauss, among others. Some of the "quotations" are pretty extensive. An example of this is the Princess Leia music which comes almost directly from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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I am of the strong opinion that John Williams "lifted" Star Wars from Shostokovich.

I wonder what Lucas and company put on the "temp track" (sometimes known as guide track) -- I wonder if it included Shostokovich? The final scores often reflect the emotional morphological characteristics and style of the music the filmmakers put on the temp track (if any). There was a rumor that Lucas told Williams that he would like something between Wagner and Korngold, but who knows if that is true. I was present at a panel discussion when Coppola said that Kubrick had Alex North write some music for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but later simply decided to use his temp track, and that Lucas did about the same thing for American Graffiti. BTW, the North music for 2001 was recorded for CD by Jerry Goldsmith. The opening music does somewhat reflect the style of the temp track opening, but you can't out-Zarathustra Zarathustra.

Edited by Garyrc
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  • 4 weeks later...

I just got back a while ago. Here's my review:

The show included Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody first. This being my first symphony, I immediately noticed that the decibels were a little lower than expected. Even as the orchestra worked into a small frenzy, I was amazed that you could still hear a pin drop in that music hall. Every instrument counted, right down to the triangle, which was as vivid in a lively part as if it was solo. Every instrument was that way. I had never heard such sound quality before this event.

I didn't finish counting the number of players, but I figure it was around 80 or so. I've been to many rock concerts and some country, too. The big difference is that rock musicians in concert will tend to play to their technical limits when soloing, whereas, the orchestra really doesn't do that. The difference, however, is striking and noteworthy because in the symphony, timing and dynamics are absolutely mastered. There is no slop - zip, zero, nada. It is really quite dreamy and magnificent to see 80 musicians coordinate so masterfully and pass the baton back and forth as they do. In this kind of music, there is no room for slop. The sound quality is so good that you hear absolutely everything. So, when you think about the complexity of it all - the way they coordinate timing, loudness, softness, silence and then, change it all together in an instant and perfectly - it really shows these players are the best of the best.

A guest pianist names Daniil Trifonov played Rachmaninoff. A very young kid at maybe 23 years old or so. If you keep up with who the world-renowned pianists are, look up this kid. He is the shite, man! I have never seen piano played so well. His short bio says he took 1st place at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. I imagine that, alone, speaks in spades.

After Rachmaninoff came Shostakovich. I think the orchestra was put together better than Rachmaninoff. I don't mean it played better. I mean the music was written better. We both liked the climaxes with the bing, bam, boom and thought it would have been better with more of that. Still, this does not diminish from my impression on the quality of the music, musicians and venue as noted above.

Trifonov was so remarkable on the piano that he could have dazzled us for the entire show and that would have been fine by me. I would like to see him or someone like him again.

Thanks much to Larry for guiding me to the best seats. They were indeed the best seats in the house. There was no need for binoculars, although we brought some just in case. The view was great from where we were, and to be able to see everyone do their thing was well worth the price. I think the visual experience was almost as important as the sound. You just have to see how they do it to be totally respectful of it.

At $117 a ticket, it's not something I'd do all the time. But it is sure a nice treat. I think, from this first impression of mine, I would be inclined to look for another show where a pianist is featured. That was really something to see.

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Thanks for the write-up, Jeff! Yeah, decibel levels for even a stageful of non-electronic acoustic instruments is much lower than we're used to in our homes, probably only 80 db or so in loud passages. The real difference is at the other end, however -- while I believe I've read that quiet homes have minimum levels of 40 or 50 db above reference, auditoriums are super-quiet, maybe only a 25 db base. It's the background quietness that makes the musical detail stand out so clearly. Somewhat the same is probably true for very quiet audio sets in very quiet homes, but noisier sound sources and equipment can destroy any illusion of realism.

No doubt a good guess -- perhaps 80-90 players, judging from the official HSO roster of 90. That roster looks a little thin in the strings, which usually determines the orchestra's size (a flexible several per part vs. one per part of winds, brass, and percussion). Some of the roster may not have been present, but orchestras also add contract players when they want. But these players are all extremely proficient professionals, as you noted in their precision and unity.

I saw Trifonov at Strathmore the year after he won the Tchaikovsky competition. (Winning the Tchaikovsky competition launched Van Cliburn's fame in the late 1950's.) He really was very good. I remember marveling at his lightning changes in dynamics and tempo in the middle of extremely difficult passages, sort of like Horowitz could back in his day.

Your seats were even on the right side of the balcony to see the pianist's hands. How did you snare those, anyway?

Edited by LarryC
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Your seats were even on the right side of the balcony to see the pianist's hands. How did you snare those, anyway?

I was on the other side and did not see his hands. Houston is not really much of a "cosmopolitan" city, and 2 months in advance (or whatever it was) was ample time to get seats pretty much anywhere I wanted.

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Excellent write-up Jeff. A spot on analysis of the differences between a professional orchestra playing in a stellar venue and even the high quality systems we here enjoy.

I suspect that now that this type of sound is on your radar, you will be seeking out further experiences and good halls for whatever music you choose to see live.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Is anyone interested? --

On Friday Nov. 14, the Baltimore Symphony Orch will present a concert of Shosty's Fifth and a play, Notes for Stalin, written by a Didi Balle, Playwright-in-Residence at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda, MD. The play was premiered and the symphony performed in March of last year, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, to great acclaim. The announcement began with a description of how close Shostakovich may have come to the mortal fate of many artists including some of his colleagues, in the Stalinist Soviet Union. Those friends and colleagues would simply disappear! Forever.

On the eve of Jan. 26, 1935 Stalin and his henchmen, unannounced,
attend a performance of Shostakovich’s world-renowned opera,
“Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”
and storm out of the Moscow theatre in a fury before the final act.\


Those days, and that country, were true horrors back then.

The Nov 14 program at Strathmore will consist of the play and the Shostakovich 5th played by the BSO. This is one of Conductor Marin Alsop's special combined productions like her multimedia The Planets a few months ago.

Again, is anyone interested?


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