What was written in a desperate attempt to appease political and social groups became Dmitri Shostakovich’s most famous work. Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 47 in D Minor brought him back into the good graces of Russian leadership, in a time when many of his friends and relatives were disappearing.
The Music School Festival Orchestra will open its concert season at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater with Shostakovich’s piece, preceded by Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, Op. 93 in F Major. MSFO Music Director Timothy Muffitt chose these symphonies as a base point for the rest of the season.
“If an orchestra can play the 18th–century style with great grace and panache and finesse, then they can play the other things,” Muffitt said. “It’s sort of a bar you have to get over.”
Muffitt said although Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 was not actually composed during the 18th century, the piece is representative of the century’s style.
“It’s a great piece for the MSFO for the first concert,” he said, “in that it really allows us to work on some fundamental things that will carry us through for the rest of the summer.”
In the second half of the concert, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 allows the orchestra to play as a group, rather than giving particular focus to only certain sections, Muffitt said.
“It’s a piece that really engages every single member of the orchestra in a very significant way,” he said. “The percussion section is really involved in the game, the harp is in there, major solos for wind instruments. So from that perspective, it’s a great piece for this orchestra.”
The symphonies complement each other, as they both have contemporary influences and also embody the characteristics of 18th century music.
“Even though [Shostakovich] was a 20th century composer, he was very traditional in many ways,” Muffitt said. “The traditional elements of this symphony, I think, are highlighted by the fact that we’re hearing a very traditional symphony before it. There is just a lot of ways the two pieces complement each other, from a listener’s perspective and from a performer’s perspective.”
After only seven rehearsals, Muffitt is confident in MSFO’s ability to perform extraordinary music during the season. Given the enthusiasm they have shown for the first concert and the level of maturity they have demonstrated, Muffitt is interested to see what the musicians will accomplish during the season.
“It’s a malleable group,” he said. “They’re not only open to new ways of coming at something, but they’re also capable of getting it the first time after we talk about a concept. Of course, we haven’t [performed] yet, but I have a very good feeling about this.”