Shostakovich rocks!


Callum writes about the March 23, 2013 CSO MasterWorks program:

I had an amazing time again with the Canton Symphony the last few days.  It was such a great experience. I have so much I want to write about that I don’t know where to start. But I’ll just start with the first rehearsal.

My dad and I went to the orchestra’s first rehearsal on Wednesday night. I couldn’t really pay attention during the first half of the rehearsal because I was going to interview Maestro Zimmermann when they took a break. So I just kept going over the questions I was going to ask him in my head, over and over. I was really nervous, especially because I knew that there wouldn’t be much time during break, so if I messed up, we wouldn’t have time to do it over again. Mr. Zimmermann even asked us at the beginning if we would like to come up and sit on stage in the orchestra, but I said no because I was so nervous and wanted to be able to focus on the questions.

The orchestra basically played through all four movements of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, and Maestro Zimmermann rehearsed them a little bit. Then the time came for break, and we went up on stage to meet Mr. Zimmermann, and as soon as I saw him, I wasn’t as nervous. Then we did the interview, and he was so nice and so easy to talk to. But I wasn’t surprised because I knew he would be like that.

Here’s the video of the interview:

interview video

[Dad: Also during the rehearsal break, the CSO’s Principal Flute made this video: Backstage with Katie DeJongh]

After the interview, I was so relieved that it was over. And then I could relax and really enjoy the rest of the rehearsal, so we asked if it would be ok to sit in the orchestra after break, and Mr. Zimmermann said of course. And wow was it awesome. We got to sit in a different place this time than we have before. The piano was right behind us, the French horns were just to our left, bells pointing right at us, the harps were right to our right, and in front were the violins. I was so surprised at how low, and then high, the French horns could play. It’s just really cool. Right before the piano played, I was looking back inside it, when all of the sudden it seemed like the whole orchestra played all at the same time, really loudly, including the piano (and the horns playing really low). Scared me to death. Another time, one of the musicians sitting behind us was watching a video or something on their phone when they weren’t playing, and it was pretty loud, and I was afraid some of the musicians thought it was me because they looked over at us. But maybe they were looking behind us. So I just want to say that it wasn’t me. 🙂 It was really awesome to hear the Shostakovich from the middle of the orchestra.

Shosti 5 rehearsal

Our view of rehearsal from inside the orchestra

This symphony is very beautiful and powerful, and it’s now my new favorite classical piece I have ever heard. And I know I said that about Scheherazade last time, and I think about Mahler’s second symphony, too… but that’s ok. I think Shostakovich really does an amazing job of showing how horrible it was in soviet Russia with his music. To me it sounded like maybe the strings represented the people, and the brass and percussion were the government and Stalin. I thought maybe the solo violin might be Shostakovich, too. And that part in the first movement when the piano comes in (that scared me at first) sounds like a theme from Super Mario Galaxy 2 when Mario battles Bowser for the last time. I love it. Then the third movement is so beautiful and sad, that I could understand if it made the audience, the musicians, and even conductors cry. Mr. Zimmermann said in the interview that this movement is a prayer for mankind. We took a little bit of video of the very end of the symphony from our seats in the orchestra, and Mrs. Mullaly (the executive director) added it to the end of the interview video, so it’s a great ending. The drums and the horns were so loud, but it was AWESOME. A few things I wrote in my notebook during rehearsal are that Shostakovich is awesome, his fifth symphony is epic, really cool, and completely awesome, and Shostakovich rocks!

Then we went to Thursday’s rehearsal because they were going to rehearse a new piece that has never been played or even rehearsed before. It’s a world premiere.  It was written for the Canton Symphony by Claude Baker to celebrate their 75th season, and it’s called Canti Guerrieri ed Amorosi, which means “Songs of War and Love.”  I couldn’t wait to hear it, especially because it is one of the first world premieres I’ve heard. And it’s the first time I’ve gotten to hear a new piece at the same time as the conductor, the musicians, and the composer heard it played for the first time. I found out that Mr. Baker is from the same town (Lenoir, North Carolina) as one of my grandpas, so I was also excited to talk to him about that. I got to meet him and he is so super nice, and he really loves this orchestra.

I loved Mr. Baker’s piece. The first movement is about love, the second movement is sort of about love and war, and the last movement is basically just about war. He took pieces that other composers wrote a long time ago, and put parts of them or ideas from them into this piece. It sounded really cool the way he did it. Near the beginning of the first movement, there is a trill with one instrument, and then it seems to pass around the orchestra. In the end of the movement, I heard something that sounds like wind, and it seemed like a transition to the second movement, because in the beginning of the second movement, I heard that same wind sound again. Then later the violins played what sounded like random notes, but they weren’t, and it sounded to me like little bugs crawling around. At one part there was really, really, really loud timpani, so loud that I thought he was going to put a hole in it. To me some of this music sounds like it should be from the game Metroid Other M, because in that game, when there actually are bugs crawling around, the music is violins playing almost exactly like that. Part of the third movement also sounded like an iPod app I used to have that had scary sounds. At one part, there is a muted trombone that sounded sort of like a car horn, and since this movement is about war, it made me picture green army trucks carrying soldiers, all driving in a line, ready to drop them off to fight in the war, and the horn sounds were the trucks’ horns. A lot of the third movement sounded scary to me, sometimes like someone is screaming. They were playing parts of it out of beat or against the beat, but that was how the music was written. It sounded really difficult to play. Some of it sounds like cannons and guns are shooting. I really loved this piece and thought it sounded really cool.

Here’s a page featuring a number of links to recordings (for free streaming) of other works by Claude Baker, including 2 pieces the CSO has performed previously under Gerhardt Zimmermann’s direction, Aus Schwanengesang and The Glass Bead GameThe Music of Claude Baker. The recording of Aus Schwanengesang is a performance by the Indiana University Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zimmermann, and in his interview with Callum, he mentions that The Glass Bead Game quotes from Shostakovich (and a number of other composers). A CD of Claude Baker’s music has been released recently as well, and it’s available for free streaming on Spotify: Flights of Passage

Now back to Callum…

At the end of this rehearsal they rehearsed Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, which they were going to play first in the concert, and it sounded really good the first time they played it. You could tell they were working really hard. I definitely remember hearing it before, when I was little. Many times it seems like. You can also tell right away that it’s Beethoven. There were off-stage trumpets, and they sounded really cool. This piece sounded really hard to play, especially the strings right near the end when it gets really fast. Mr. Zimmermann took the ending presto (which means really fast), like he talked about in the interview.

Then we went to the rehearsal right before the concert, on Saturday. The orchestra sounded so awesome. My piano teacher Matt Riddle came to this rehearsal, and he really enjoyed it. He is just amazed at how great this orchestra is, and he really enjoyed watching Mr. Zimmermann rehearse them. The first time he heard the Canton Symphony was in January at the concert with André Watts. Matt is such a great teacher and musician, and he has a lot of recordings of great orchestras, and he is so impressed with the Canton Symphony.

They rehearsed Mr. Baker’s piece again, and the more I heard it, the more I liked it. I even had part of the first movement stuck in my head for hours after the rehearsal, right up until the pre-concert lecture.

I always like going to the pre-concert lectures, because I always learn new things about the music they’re going to play, and that helps me enjoy the concert even more. This one was by the assistant conductor, Rachel Waddell, again like last time, and she did a great job. She told us a lot of really interesting things about Shostakovich and his fifth symphony, and then she interviewed Mr. Baker, which was great. She had really good questions, and his answers were really interesting. He also answered a few questions from the audience.

[Dad: Here’s Rachel’s pre-concert video, Rachel Introduces Shostakovich 5]

A really nice thing happened right before the lecture, too.  Mr. Albacete (the Executive Director of the Canton Museum of Art) gave me a CD of the Shostakovich to listen to, and said that the notes in the booklet are really good. So I read them before the concert. It’s a recording conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, who was a really good friend of Shostakovich. The CD notes were really interesting, about their friendship and that they were actually neighbors, and how sad Shostakovich was when Rostropovich left the Soviet Union. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the CD yet, but I’m really looking forward to it.


Then it was time for the concert. Like I said before, the first piece they played was Beethoven’s Leonore Overture #3. Our seats were up near the front, and it sounds great up there, but I can’t really see anything except the strings and the conductor. But that’s not a bad thing, because I love being able to watch Mr. Zimmermann conduct up close. This piece is awesome, and they played it so well.

The next piece was the world premiere by Mr. Baker. Mr. Zimmermann said a few things about it to the audience first, and then he invited Mr. Baker out on stage to talk about it too. Mr. Baker talked a lot about how great the Canton Symphony is, and that he knew that they would be able to play whatever he wrote, no matter how hard it was. And he said that this piece is really difficult to play. And then they played it, and it really sounded great, and it got a lot of applause.

Then after intermission they played the Shostakovich. The strings sounded very strong from where I sat. The whole orchestra sounded absolutely amazing. There are parts that are really, really quiet and beautiful, especially in the third movement, and it was terrible that there was a guy a few rows behind us who actually answered his cell phone right at the end of it and was talking. It was even the second time he had answered his phone. No one could believe it, and it obviously made all of us around him very angry. He was also clicking his pen really loudly with his teeth almost the whole time. But the performance was so amazing that I don’t think even that guy could ruin it for anyone. The audience gave the orchestra and Mr. Zimmermann a huge, really long standing ovation at the end, and they sure deserved it.

As always, and I know I probably say this every time, I can’t wait for their next concert! I hope you’ll be there too!

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2 Responses to “Shostakovich rocks!”

  • MJ Albacete:

    What wonderful opportunities you are having, Callum, to learn so much about the world of music from the inside–inspired by your own curiosity! Truly, you are a model to other young people with your knowledge, writing skills, and courage to face such a monumental challenge as interviewing the Maestro!

    And if you’re ever looking for that rare, hard to find CD, give me a buzz.


    • Callum:

      Thank you so much for your kind comment, Mr. Albacete! I really appreciate your encouraging words. And I’ll let you know if I ever need one of those CDs. 🙂

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