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At PMF 2011, Krzysztof Urbański (still in his 20s!) left lasting impressions on audiences and performers alike. He has since expanded his career steadily, taking on music director and chief conductor positions with well-known orchestras in Europe and the United States, making his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2014 and receiving the Leonard Bernstein Award in 2015. And now he returns to PMF!
In addition to appearing on Opening Night, Urbański will also conduct Program A (in Sapporo and Tomakomai) with a program including Grieg’s Piano Concerto performed by world-renowned pianist Jan Lisiecki! Lisiecki too is a recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Award (2013), and his synergy with Urbański is now well known. The program concludes with Shostakovich's beloved masterwork Symphony No. 5, of which Urbański - speaking of the prayerful 3rd movement - remarks, “This must surely be the most personal music [Shostakovich] ever wrote.”
☆Scroll down to the blue "Program notes" banner (below the program) to see Urbański's full remarks on this symphony!
☆Message to PMF
July 15 (Sat), 2023
(ca. 5 minutes)
Piano Concerto in a minor, Op. 16*
(ca. 30 minutes)
Allegro molto moderato
Allegro moderato molto e marcato
Symphony No. 5 in d ｍinor, Op. 47
(ca. 45 minutes)
Moderato - Allegro non troppo
Allegro non troppo
- Duration: c. 2 hours (with intermission) -
Day-of tickets will be available starting at 16:00.
S: 6,000 (U25 3,000)
A: 5,000 (U25 2,500)
B: 4,000 (U25 2,000)
<Tickets can be purchased from outside Japan!>
English Ticketing Page
*Program and artists are subject to change.
Supported by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, Fiscal Year 2023
Sponsoring Organizations: Pacific Music Festival Organizing Committee / City of Sapporo
Mutual Sponsor: Sapporo Concert Hall Kitara
Subsidies: The Mitsubishi UFJ Trust Foundation for the Arts
Pacific Music Festival Organizing Committee
Symphony No. 5 in d ｍinor Op. 47
Shostakovich’s Fifth is without doubt one of the greatest symphonies ever written, and it is also one of my personal favorites. This genuine masterpiece represents a mirror image of the world around Shostakovich: in it he depicted in music the reality of life in Leningrad in 1937 from his own perspective. For him this was the ‘worst of times’. After the premiere of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and the official denunciation of the opera prompted by Stalin’s stormy reaction to the work, the composer was closely watched by the Party. Shostakovich himself was summoned for interrogation, but escaped due to a twist of fate, when his interrogator was himself arrested. Every day the composer felt a constant fear for his own life, and for the safety of his family; rightly so, for during the time of ‘Great Terror’ many Soviet citizens were arrested without warning and either secretly executed, or sent to the Gulag. He kept a small, packed suitcase always ready, day and night, for his seemingly inevitable arrest.
This sense of threat however did not silence his need to compose. He had to find a way to cope with the sense of pressure, and to create new music which would please the authorities and keep the danger of public criticism at a safe distance. His Fourth Symphony had been denounced for its dissonances, its bleak atmosphere, and its ending, fading away into silence. So for his Fifth Symphony the composer deliberately simplified his musical language in order to produce a work that might be considered ‘accessible’ by the Party: one that would be perceived as full of positive spirit, with a resoundingly triumphant conclusion.
One might imagine that such dubious circumstances could have destroyed the talented young composer, and turned him into a Soviet propagandist. For on the surface, the piece appears to be full of orchestral bravura, optimistic, ‘happy’. On the contrary, I believe the symphony to be actually extremely tragic. If you look closely enough, you can discover many layers to it – like one of those Russian puppets containing a large series of dolls beneath the outside, each one when removed revealing another more compact doll beneath it. For the truly fascinating aspect of this score is that the composer’s most personal thoughts lie hidden between the notes.
The symphony – at least to me – seems to fall into two main parts. In the first two movements Shostakovich describes the world as an observer, a detached narrator. It is as if he is sitting there on the windowsill and looking out on a bizarre, disordered world, appearing in the muted tones of black and white. A world that seems entirely bereft of hope. Every phrase in the first movement rises up in hope, but then falls back into a depressed state of pessimism.
Even the second movement ‘Allegretto’ has a hidden message. On the outside it might sound like a comedy, a joke, a scherzo; but we must bear in mind that in such an unhuman environment – one where speaking the truth could lead to certain death – sarcasm, irony, and the grotesque become a way to disguise reality. In this movement, Shostakovich makes us see the world in the distorting mirror of a carnival. It is as if a ‘Waltz’ from a Tchaikovsky ballet – the most elegant of social dances – were being presented on a muddy, filthy street, by a bunch of ragged, down-at-heel drunkards.
For me, the key to the whole symphony is in its third movement. Here the composer takes us to an entirely different, transcendently personal dimension: the drama takes place inside his very soul. This must surely be the most personal music he ever wrote. The whole movement is a prayer – a conversation with his inner self. It seems to take place in a Russian Orthodox Church, where strings imitate the sound of a church choir. The solo winds voice his own, personal thoughts, in a way that is both intimate and moving. And the movement ends with a two-note ‘A-men’.
Then begins the real tragedy. The NKVD, Stalin’s secret police, enter on the scene, with a theme I think of as a ‘motif of terror’. They are after him in earnest, and a deadly chase begins. It is fascinating to analyze Shostakovich’s metronome markings: he starts the ‘Allegro non troppo’ at a quite moderate walking pace of 88 quarter notes per minute, but already by the eighth bar he asks for ‘accelerando poco a poco’ – i.e. for the tempo to become gradually faster and faster. Three bars later, the chase sets in at a tempo of 104 beats per minute, and every few pages it accelerates further: to 108, 120, 126, 132... It is as if Shostakovich is looking back only to find his pursuers still following him. So he runs away faster and even faster until – or at least so it seems – he has finally escaped his tormentors. But freedom turns out to be an illusion. We have now reached the fastest metronome marking of all – with a half-note at 92 beats per minute, almost exactly twice as fast as the opening. However, as the music we now hear – the menacing opening theme – is notated at double the original note-lengths, it is as if we have come round in a circle, for the ‘motif of terror’ is therefore now heard at the same speed as at the beginning. Our protagonist is caught in a trap, and the bitter truth dawns on him: it doesn’t matter how fast you run – they will always get you.
Now, with a low ostinato A obsessively beaten out by the timpani, the victim’s brainwashing begins. And when the end of the symphony arrives, we hear this ‘motif of terror’ in a completely new light. For the bright, open key of D major suggests a triumphant finale. Yet Shostakovich himself is said to have declared that this constantly, almost neurotically repeated dominant note A, now played by the whole orchestra, is like a cudgel beating down on the Russian people, and by implication on the head of the composer too, while the music declares over and over again: ‘Rejoice! Rejoice! Your business is to rejoice!’ Here Shostakovich was referring to the scene of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov in which the ruthless boyar nobles beat the crowd into feigning a joyous acclaim for the new Tsar pretender Boris – which in turn is an ominous secret reference to the dictator Stalin, to his notorious need for universal and unquestioning praise, and his brutal punishment of any dissent.
And so the composer depicts himself as the helpless tool of a tyrannical regime, as he turns obediently to face his persecutors and repeats: ‘Yes! As a Soviet artist, my business is to rejoice: my business is to rejoice…’ For this moment of noisy jubilation is, in truth, his own personal tragedy.
* Solomon Volkov : Testmony : the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich (1979)
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