The CSO had their second Beyond the Score concert Sunday afternoon, and filled the hall for it. (I don't know how many of those seats were comps; when I find out, I'll give an update. I also wrote about the series in this week's Time Out Chicago. Our website isn't yet free, alas. Update: the CSO says that the capacity audience was comprised of 2/3 paying customers and 1/3 comps. They were reportedly turning away paying customers, so the formula will likely be tweaked next time round.) They were taking apart Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony and putting it in its historical context. But they ran into the shallow shoals of collective memory when a man in the balcony starting heckling series narrator Gerard McBurney.
When McBurney started discussing the dissidents Stalin had exiled, tortured and killed, an elderly man in the balcony started protesting. "I came here to hear a concert, not a bunch of lies!" he yelled, and reportedly also said, "Long live the Third International!" as he left the hall. McBurney kept reading, and since a lot of people were asking me at intermission if this man was a plant, I'll say here and now that, no, he wasn't, as far as I could make out from talking to CSO personnel, who all seemed as shocked as everyone else. This should create some buzz for the series.
McBurney wrote the narration, interspersed with news footage from Soviet Russia, with the CSO serving up excerpts as background music, along with actor Tim Gregory reading letters from Shostakovich and others. Putting the visual element to the musical seems to me to be the best way to meet people halfway in this visual-driven culture. Most people aren't used to thinking of their ears as eyes, and turning a symphony into background music to film footage of its time isn't diluting the music one bit. The end of the presentation showed a series of photographs of Shostakovich at various stages in his life, including the shots of him cheering at soccer matches, which I can't seem to find online.
But the final one shocked the most, as the orchestra faded out the closing bars of the symphony. It was of a wraith-like man, pallid and looking withdrawn, who wasn't wearing glasses. Without those glasses, through which he witnessed so much, the steel-souled Shostakovich looked frail.
Oh yeah, there was a performance, too. All of the Fourth's big moments created that cataclysmic welter of sound I'd been anticipating, and there were moments of unbridled ferocity that won't be equaled on that stage anytime soon, both on Thursday night and yesterday afternoon. Lynn Harrell's tone is falling apart and turning wiry, so his Elgar concerto was less moving than it otherwise could have been.
Friday night at Mandel Hall, the Tokyo String Quartet paid tribute to Mozart with the Oboe Quartet, with the Concertgebouw's new principal, Alexei Ogrintchouck and the Clarinet Quintet, with Sabine Meyer. Both of those soloists brought seamless, singing tones to those works, and played with a wide-eyed innocence. In music that must surely be routine to them by now, they polished each phrase and leaned into the occasional harmonic surprises. The Quartet played Dvorak's "American" quartet, but it came out sounding less than "American." They rounded off some of Dvorak's attempts at sounding uncouth, and left the impression of Dvorak as the impressive incorporator of folk music, but not as the insightful observer of a different culture. Still, that was some Mozart.