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Chapter Twenty Nine of Keeping Score in America: Gustavo Dudamel And Dimitri Shostakovich

By Michael Moriarty
web posted January 13, 2014

Dimitri Shostakovich's 10th Symphony conducted by Gustavo Dudamel brings together two entirely different but profoundly complimentary geniuses: Dimitri Shostakovich and Gustavo Dudamel.

Gustavo Dudamel
Irrepressibly Ecstatic Genius

I consider the Shostakovich 10th, first performed following the death of Joseph Stalin, to contain the hidden rage, profoundly embittered sarcasm, inevitable agonies and highly concealed but profoundly impressive courage of an indisputable genius's lifetime under Soviet Communism.

It's creation may very well have, till the moment of its first performance, spanned nine years.

From Wikipedia:

The Symphony No. 10 in E minor (Op. 93) by Dmitri Shostakovich was premiered by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky on 17 December 1953, following the death of Joseph Stalin in March of that year. It is not clear when it was written: according to the composer's letters composition was between July and October 1953, but Tatiana Nikolayeva stated that it was completed in 1951. Sketches for some of the material date from 1946.

Returning to the subject of a powerfully dynamic collaboration, were both Shostakovich – and this is a question – this high strung genius of the Soviet Union, and Dudamel, the divinely  endowed child of a troubled Venezuela, have they both been forced to follow a Far Left direction? Dudamel's political identity set by Hugo Chavez, and, therefore, don't both men, Shostakovich and Dudamel, now, in both death and life, share much of the same pressures. Function with much the same survival instincts?

I suspect that after Shostakovich's experience with Stalin and the tyrant's response to the composer's opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtensk– nearly destroyed by homicidal Stalin's pure condemnation – the contents of the Shostakovich 10th, like that of his 4th Symphony, was potentially too incendiary for performance in a Soviet Union still containing the living, breathing, threatening and genocidal presence of Joseph Stalin.

Dimitri Shostakovich
Divinely Secretive Genius

From Wikipedia:

Dmitri Shostakovich composed his Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Opus 43, between September 1935 and May 1936, after abandoning some preliminary sketch material. In January 1936, halfway through this period, Pravda—under direct orders from Joseph Stalin—published an editorial 'Muddle Instead of Music' that denounced the composer and targeted his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Despite this attack, and despite the oppressive political climate of the time, Shostakovich completed the symphony and planned its premiere for December 1936 in Leningrad. At some point during rehearsals he changed his mind and withdrew the work. It was premiered on 30 December 1961 by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra led by Kirill Kondrashin.

Then there is the mystery of Dudamel conducting a Shostakovich symphony dedicated to Vladimir Lenin, the 12th Symphony, of which an excerpt is linked here.

Why that particular symphony, Mr. Dudamel?

Whom and what are you appeasing?

Shostakovich wrote fifteen symphonies! And the Shostakovich "Leninist" symphony, # 12, is performed by a Berlin Orchestra haunted by the Soviet Union's Berlin Wall?

All very Leninist inspired tyrannies!

Survival for artists born or trapped into some form of tyranny?!

Could very well be what has made them even greater artists: the ever-present surroundings of Evil.

The most vital question hanging in the air is stated quite clearly here by Néstor Pérez, in a comment beneath the Youtube site for Dudamel's performance of the 10th Symphony:

As a Venezuelan I recognize this orchestra is our pride and joy, the musical system here is the envy of the world. But that's it. The rest of my country is falling apart. The economy is a disaster, our currency worths (sic) nothing, yes, we have free health, but you go to a hospital here and there are no supplies, nothing, women give birth on the floor sometimes cuz' there are no beds. Finding food is difficult as hell and salaries are not enough. That is Venezuela. A country where they call u a traitor, "pitillanqui", capitalist, and even "maricon" if u think in a different way, a country when they ignore the whole half that is against this terrible regime. Beautiful music thou'.


Dudamel, in addition to his appearances with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela, is also under contract to the Los Angeles Philharmonic till, as I understand his five year agreement, the contract ends in 2014.

Together these young musicians of Venezuela and their leader have created an orchestra now known and deeply respected round the world!

The symbolic imprisonment Shostakovich was married to had been a metaphorically schizophrenic predicament until Stalin's death.

The 10th is not just brilliantly performed by Gustav Dudamel's Simon Bolivar Orchestra.

It is divinely performed!

What I mean by that is God's Presence somewhere within all of its conception, direction and execution.

There are numerous solos placed throughout the symphony and in many different instrument sections. Each is played with this same profound understanding of the entire ensemble's intention with this performance.

How would I describe the intention?

To carry the audience through a painfully important, four act drama, the inner life of Dimitri Shostakovich under the oppressions of Joseph Stalin.

Not the least of which oppressions was having to compose symphonies which, until Stalin's most welcome death, must please Stalin. Must keep the dictator from persecuting, imprisoning and/or executing the composer.

I first alluded in my editorials for Enter Stage Right to Shostakovich with an article about Bill Maher!

How did that happen?

Shakespeare's play, King Lear.

The character of The Fool.

Two men, both Bill Maher and Dimitri Shostakovich, playing the Far Left Fool to the King Lear's of both Barack Obama and Joseph Stalin.

The details of Shostakovich as Fool or, as the Russians label the role, Yurodivy, are for another editorial.

Till then I just must ponder the "predicament" which both Shostakovich and Dudamel must have shared – and which both their souls are still sharing – over having an entirely state-supported membership in the symphonic arts of Venezuela.

However, as Néstir Péréz concludes: "Beautiful music thou' (though)"! ESR

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at rainbowfamily2008@yahoo.com. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.





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