Siege Diaries 7/18/2020

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Some things do not change.

I remember a few months ago, when everyone still believed the current situation would be resolved in a number of weeks, I started to make my summer concert plans.  This past Thursday, I would have been in Chautauqua again for the Shostakovich 4th Symphony.  And tonight I would have been at a Toronto Summer Music concert called “Moonlight Memories”, featuring both the Beethoven ‘Moonlight’ Sonata for piano and the Shostakovich Viola Sonata (which quotes the former’s first movement extensively in its final movement.)

But there are to be no live concerts this summer.

And yet, there I was, in my seat at 7:45 pm, waiting for the concert to start.  You see, a decent chunk of Toronto Summer Music is still going forward this year.   Artists who were set to perform have instead recorded their concerts and they are being livestreamed at the times they were originally scheduled.  And, much like the Tafelmusik concerts I attended last month, you’re getting just the one shot to tune in and watch (although I am told they may eventually be shown again).

I came away after this one wanting more.  More of the spectacular production values and sound, more opportunities to hear fresh new interpretations of iconic works.  Sure, I’d have loved to see this in person.  But this was a pretty damned good substitute.

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Pianist Philip Chiu’s interpretation of the Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2, “Moonlight” was gorgeous, particularly in the lyrical first movement and the passionate final movement.  But violist Remi Pelletier brought things out in the Shostakovich that I’d never heard–and I have heard it played live.  This work is everything.  It’s Shostakovich’s final work, completed the month before he died in 1975, and it attests to the simple truth anyone who has listened to more than the handful of truly popular Shostakovich works knows:  You cannot easily classify his music.  The Viola Sonata is quiet and anguished and jaunty and eerie and passionate and melodic and dissonant, and apparently there are bits of all 15 of his symphonies in there, as well as a huge chunk of themes from his half-finished 1942 opera The Gamblers and the aforementioned Beethoven homage.  Yet, unlike a freshman trying to write his first history essay who does not realize that stringing a bunch of quotes together does not make for a good research paper, the Viola Sonata is much more than the sum of its parts, and presents its own argument.    Watching Pelletier play, I was impressed once again how well a pianist managed to write for strings.  And there is something about this particular work that would not do on any other instrument other than the viola.  The eerie series of harmonics in the first movement sounded particularly otherworldly.  And, of course, when Shostakovich wrote a sonata for a stringed instrument and piano, the piano is never just an accompaniment–the two instruments work together, and Chiu and Pelletier had an incredible rapport even though Pelletier never even looked at Chiu.  They just seemed to both inhabit the music together.

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I didn’t pay a thing to attend this concert.  But at the end, there was a link for contributions, and I’ll be visiting it, chipping in what I might have paid to attend in person–because the world needs more of these performances, unconstrained by time and space and the state of the world, to bridge us into the After Times.

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