Russia is the musical flavour of the month in Cork. Rehearsals are currently in full swing as the Cork Concert Orchestra (CCO) prepares to bring an ambitious all-Russian programme to the platform at Cork City Hall on Sunday.
All the works on the programme are by composers who graduated from the oldest music school in Russia, the St Petersburg Conservatory. St Petersburg (Leningrad) is the second largest in Russia after Moscow.
Headlining the programme is an epic symphony by the greatest composer of the Soviet era, Dmitri Shostakovich. To copper-fasten the Russian factor, principal conductor of CCO Tom Crowley will be stepping down from the podium to make way for his mentor Dumitru Goia, a conductor of international standing.
Born in Moldova, Goia is a graduate of the Leningrad school that spawned the works that will be heard in City Hall on Sunday night
Artistic director of CCO Adrian Petcu describes Symphony no 5 by Shostakovich as powerful and direct yet shot through with ambiguities.
“Symphony no. 5 has long been the most popular of his 15 symphonies. It was written under the most intense spotlight imaginable.
"Stalin’s public denunciation of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth as ‘coarse, primitive and vulgar’ had effectively turned Shostakovich in an era of unprecedented state terrorism into a non-person and the musical public enemy number one.
"He was immediately shunned by almost everybody he knew. As a composer he was under pressure to simplify his music and adapt it to classical models.”
His 5th Symphony marked a return to official grace yet also resonated deeply with his Russian audience. The premiere in Leningrad was a huge success with the applause lasting as long as the work itself. There are reports of people weeping during the slow movement, said to be one of the most beautiful and heartrending of Shostakovich’s creations.”
Conducting the premiere in 1937 was the celebrated Russian conductor, Yevgheny Mravinsky who according to reports held the score aloft in a defiant gesture, much to the chagrin of officials.
In his student days, Goia often went to see Mravinsky conduct as often as he could and would be invited back stage after the concert for a cup of tea and to ask questions about the performance and interpretation.
Cork native, Tom Crowley, principal conductor of the CCO, spent two years studying with Goia in Bucharest. What is the secret of the Russian style of conducting?
It’s all about what happens between the beats, he says.
“Russian conducting is based on trajectory (the moments between the beats) while many other styles are based on an ictus, the moment of the beat. On the podium Goia is stoic, minimalist and often near motionless when viewed from behind (the audience view) and crackling with energy and expression when viewed from the front (orchestral view).
"This is achieved through discerning economy of movement and a practiced focus of communication.”
Crowley is looking forward to showing to showing off his native city to his mentor and teacher.
“I have a very fond memory of him gesturing to a stack of scores in our classroom; Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and saying, ‘I am a lucky man. I have the opportunity to speak with these great composers every day. I must only open the scores’.”
Shostakovich himself visited Ireland in 1972 just three years before his death. He met President de Valera and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity.
Joining Goia on the platform will be the young Romanian violin virtuoso Diana Jipa who will perform the solo violin part of Tchaikowsky’ s Souvenirs d’un Lieu Cher in an arrangement by Glazunov.
If the Cork Concert Orchestra’s previous performances in their brief two year history are anything to go by, this concert promises an authentic experience of the Russian masters.