Terrifying Shostakovich for my last 2012 Prom: Andris Nelsons memorably conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony, completed and first performed in 1941, whilst the desperate siege and battle of Leningrad was still being fought.
“Terrifying” because although there is a large orchestra and at times it plays very loudly, the subtext of this symphony about totalitarianism is as clear and relevant today as in 1941: the apparently innocent tune that mutates in to a monster during the course of the first movement. The victory of the last movement that is crushingly bitter-sweet.
There’s an air of Beethoven about Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in C major, the deceptively plain C major key, which punches unexpected emotions despite its apparently plain tonality; the exploitation of small changes in rhythm, again for dramatic emotional effect; the intense intellectual argument but above all the idealism hidden within the music. There’s also reference to the V for victory drumbeat, ie the motif from Beethoven’s Fifth.
Andris Nelsons and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra brought this all out of the music, they survived with panache the dramatically exposed solo passages and the no less demanding unison sections. The split brass (soloists high up above the violins audience left) punched clear, clean and hard whilst the orchestral brass partnered finely with the rest of the platform.
A standing ovation with foot stamping was the audience’s reaction, Andris Nelsons acknowledging the many orchestral soloists in turn.
A fantastic finale to my 2012 Prom season - I've enjoyed much fine music and met some great people.
Tonight’s curtain raiser, Ginka's overture to “Ruslan and Lyudmila”, was for many years a favourite at the Proms of Thomas Beecham and Henry Wood before him. I don’t remember it appearing recently so it was good to hear it new and fresh and in a fine performance.
Emily Howard came on stage to acknowledge polite applause for the UK premiere of her “Calculus of the Nervous System”. The programme note said her piece had been well received in Vienna, maybe they are more polite than what some of tonight’s Promenaders said during the interval.
Prom 51: Glinka, Howard & Shostakovich
Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmila – overture
Emily Howard: Calculus of the Nervous System (UK Premiere)
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 in C major ‘Leningrad’
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons, conductor