San Francisco Ballet 'Shostakovich Trilogy' Opens May 7

San Francisco Ballet 'Shostakovich Trilogy' Opens May 7
Erik Tomasson, San Francisco Ballet
…fascinating, poetic, enigmatic and bittersweet…
Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times 

Alexei Ratmansky's Shostakovich Trilogy returns to San Francisco Ballet after garnering ecstatic critical and audience acclaim at its 2014 San Francisco Ballet premiere. Declared 'a masterpiece' by the San Francisco Chronicle, Ratmansky's trilogy, a San Francisco Ballet co-commission with American Ballet Theatre, is made up of three distinct ballets given their world premieres by American Ballet Theatre in New York between 2012 and 2013.

'Discovering the music of Shostakovich was a breath of fresh air that gave me a real sense of truth in art. It is very theatrical and uses strong effects and colors and for that I was trying to find a choreographic equivalent. The music comes first and I can't imagine getting ideas for my choreography from somewhere else. The sound of it, the rhythm, it really pushes me in my imagination.'
— Ratmansky

Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 70
The Ninth Symphony was originally intended to be a celebration of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. Dmitri Shostakovich declared in October 1943 that the symphony would be a large composition, 'about the greatness of the Soviet people, about our Red Army liberating our native land from the enemy'. On the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the Revolution held in 1944, Shostakovich affirmed, 'Undoubtedly like every Soviet artist, I harbor the tremulous dream of a large-scale work in which the overpowering feelings ruling us today would find expression. I think the epigraph to all our work in the coming years will be the single word " '.

Before the world premiere on November 5 1945, Shostakovich forewarned listeners, 'In character, the Ninth Symphony differs sharply from my preceding symphonies. If the Seventh and Eighth bore a tragic-heroic character, then in the Ninth a transparent, pellucid, and bright mood predominates'. Russian musicologist Daniel Zhitomirsky wrote, 'For all the surface simplicity and accessibility of its content, the Ninth possesses that degree of artistic beauty and spirituality that permits contact with precious vital sources of art'.

Chamber Symphony for Strings in C Minor, Op. 110a (after String Quartet No. 8)
The work was written in Dresden, where Shostakovich had traveled to write music for a film, Five Days, Five Nights, which depicts a search for lost art shortly after Dresden's bombing in World War II. Shostakovich advised a friend that the writing conditions were 'ideal' but he struggled to compose the score and instead crafted his Eighth String Quartet in a staggering three days. The quartet premiered in 1960 in Leningrad; later, Rudolf Barshai transcribed it for string orchestra as Chamber Symphony in C Minor, Op. 110a.

The score includes part of an old Russian prison song. Its dedication reads, 'In Memory of Victims of Fascism and War'. Later, Shostakovich observed, 'I reflected that when I die it's not likely anyone will write a quartet dedicated to my memory. So I decided to write it myself. You could even write on the cover: "Dedicated to the memory of the composer of this quartet' ". The main theme, heard in its opening measures and throughout the score, consists of his initials: D-S-C-H in German music notation, or the pitches D, E-flat, C, and B-natural.

Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35 (for piano, trumpet, and strings)
This work marked the composer's initial essay in the concerto genre but also his first venture into the realm of symphonic structures since his First Symphony eight years earlier. Scored for the unusual accompaniment of trumpet and string orchestra, the composer completed the work in July 1933. Despite the title, the work might more accurately be classified as a double concerto in which the trumpet and piano command equal prominence. The trumpet frequently offers sardonic interjections, leavening the humor and wit of the piano passagework. The concerto was premiered on October 15 1933 in the season-opening concerts of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra with Shostakovich at the piano, Fritz Stiedry conducting, and Alexander Schmidt on trumpet.

The score was heard to success in Christopher Wheeldon's production of Mercurial Manoeuvres created for New York City Ballet's Diamond Project in 2000.

May 7 – May 12 2019, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA

Profile on Ratmansky

Tyler Angle shares his joy of the Piano Concerto No. 1
Spotify playlist

San Francisco Ballet blog: Your Ultimate Guide to Shostakovich Trilogy
Laurel Fay: Shostakovich — a Life

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