30 May 2018

Salonen, Varèse, and Shostakovich

I was in New York City last month, and while I was there, I had a chance to attend a concert in the Lincoln Center. The Los Angeles Philharmonic was performing, and Gustavo Dudamel was conducting. My sister was able to get tickets, and given the program, I must say I was excited with this one.

The first piece was Esa-Pekka Salonen's Pollux. This piece was actually a very modern and new composition, and the performance we saw was its premiere in New York. It was published earlier this year, and the composer was indeed in the room when it was performed. Salonen is actually a Composer-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic, and this piece was just teeming with life. It was definitely a joy to listen to.

The second piece is by Edgard Varèse, a composer who I only knew by name, until now. I never heard any of his pieces before, perhaps because most of his pieces aren't that performed nowadays, either that, or the groups I have been attending just didn't like performing his pieces. In any case, they performed Ameriques that night, composed in 1918-1921 and revised in 1927. That kept me on the edge of my seat. I later learned that Ameriques essentially was his first composition (technically he wrote earlier pieces, but destroyed them later), so I am now interested in listening to his other works given how impressive this one was.

After the intermission, they played Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47. I am familiar with the first movement of this piece, as I have heard of it several times before, but not live. It is an interesting piece, I must say, but more for theoretical reasons. Shostakovich had a difficult relationship with the Soviet government, and this was his answer to his first encounter with censorship. Musically, it was captivating, but not as much as the previous two pieces we heard, and it makes me wonder how much of Shostakovich's musical potential was killed off by the Soviets due to censorship. Stalin didn't like his earlier output, and this symphony was the result of Shostakovich's wanting to placate Stalin.

In any case, it was a very engaging evening. I am glad to have had the chance to listen to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Maybe I should buy tickets for the Berlin Philharmonic too: I'm almost 6 years here in Berlin and yet I still haven't had the chance to see them.


  1. I mentioned it many times by now, but I really admire the way you casually attend so many cultural events, wherever you are, as well as your curiosity in general. It takes you so museums, restaurants, plays... that's really cool.

    1. Zhu,

      Thanks. I think it just shows what interests I have. After all, I don't attend sports events, football matches, non-classical music concerts, and many other things. We all just have very varied interests.