The main work this hour is Dmitri Shostakovich's Fifteenth Symphony, as conducted by Mikhail Pletnev.
Admitted to Moscow's Central Music School for highly talented children at age 13, Mikhail Pletnev eventually won a number of competitions, including the 1978 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
His second career as a conductor didn’t come as easily. Many consider Pletnev a fabulously gifted pianist who took a detour. But watch Pletnev conduct and listen to the results, and you'll feel an unbelievable tension in the air. Sometimes the maestro needs only the tiniest of gestures to achieve his desired sound.
Pletnev’s artistry as a conductor is on display at this concert at the Beethovenfest focusing on works with which artists said farewell.
Dmitri Shostakovich was very ill when he wrote his Fifteenth Symphony. Towards the end of the piece, one even seems to hear the machines in the hospital keeping him alive, as in when the percussionists play what sounds like a background noise. Then all falls silent.
At the beginning, Shostakovich quotes Rossini's William Tell Overture. Quoting such familiar tunes, including some from his own works, Shostakovich himself compared the opening of his last symphony to a toyshop. The music conjures up a macabre image of toys brought to life, presumably at nighttime, guided like puppets by the composer's hand. Shostakovich’s friend and student Boris Tischenko summed it up as "laughter from the hereafter."
Symphony No. 15 in A Major, op. 141
Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev, conductor
Recorded by West German Radio, Cologne (WDR) in the World Conference Center Bonn on September 1, 2018