Artists

Orchestra

25 Mar '21

Concert
25 Mar '21

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Tour

Concert dates and locations

  • 25 March 2021 | Tonhalle Maag Zurich | 19:30

Artists

Programme

Many a work that is now considered a classic of violin literature had a difficult start. Like Beethoven's and Tchaikovsky's violin concertos, Johannes Brahms' D Major Concerto (1878) was greeted with scepticism. After all, Brahms was a pianist, not a violinist. Moreover, he had a symphonic mind that abhorred pure virtuosity. Pablo de Sarasate, one of the greatest violinists of his time, summed up his reserve about op. 77 when he stated that he did not want to listen to the only melody of the entire work without playing his instrument. This melody is, in fact, the enchanting oboe solo at the beginning of the second movement. What Sarasate failed to realise is that Brahms did not give up either the vocal mellow or the instrumental brilliance, but integrated both into a complex compositional structure. The soloist and the orchestra have perfectly equal roles from the outset. In the first movement, for example, there is an almost fraternal harmony in the presentation of the main themes. In the Adagio, the oboe may well be the first to step in. Still, the solo violin has perhaps the most essential role in continuing the wind melody, reformulating it and thus determining the course of the movement. In the Finale Brahms pushes the equality of the partners to the extreme with a wink: while the orchestra instruments engage in virtuoso accompaniment figures, the soloist consistently practices polyphony. Brahms skilfully conceals further highlights of the contrapuntal inventory behind the movement's Hungarian flair.
Dmitri Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony is one of the most exciting, but also most oppressive works in recent music history. After attending a performance of the opera "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk", Stalin accused the celebrated composer of producing "chaos instead of music" - a scathing verdict in the 1930s. From then on, Shostakovich had to reckon with the worst: his sister was deported, and close friends were murdered. It was in this climate that he wrote his new symphony as a "creative response to justified criticism".
What sounds like a revolt against power is, in fact, a game of hide-and-seek that is both refined and desperate. On the surface, the Fifth Symphony is precisely what the Soviet cultural bureaucracy expected it to be: a classical four-movement symphony, mostly melodic and just like Beethoven, the dark minor at the end turns to major, the final bars appearing almost monumental. But does this "positive" conclusion really outweigh the many expressions of pain and lament in the preceding movements? Why is the Scherzo, a crude collage of quotations, so brazenly cheerful? And why does Shostakovich repeatedly create moments in which the music comes to a halt, sometimes as an unreal sound of the spheres, sometimes as a collective cry? Under these conditions, the symphony's triumphant end does not seem liberated, but forced; it is not the goal of the development, but instead imposed from above. A double compositional strategy, therefore, that rehabilitated its creator - at least momentarily.

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Good to know

One of the most important classical orchestras in the Middle East, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is also one of the world's finest ensembles. Since its creation, the orchestra's history has also reflected political developments in Europe and its neighbours. Founded in 1936 as a refuge for persecuted Jewish musicians, the ensemble adopted its present name in 1948, after the State of Israel declared its independence. German music and especially the works of Wagner were long avoided. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is meanwhile actively engaged in the process of reconciliation, for example through concerts such as the one given on the Lebanese border in 1977 or through cooperation with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Mainly consisting of exiles in its early days, the orchestra now mainly employs musicians who were born in Israel. Until 1968 there was no permanent chief conductor. Zubin Mehta then took on this function which he handed over to the young Israeli Lahav Shani in 2020, after more than half a century of commitment.

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