Siege Diaries 4/25/2022

One year ago today, I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. I jumped at the opportunity to receive the Astra Zenica shot, despite with some concerns with it that kept me vigilant afterwards. I had not insignificant side effects, including chills and a slight fever, along with a brief period of dizziness. My arm also hurt quite a bit. Since that time, of course, I have received a second dose–Pfizer this time–as well as a booster (also Pfizer). I remember the hope at the time that this would end the pandemic–a hope dashed by omicron. I certainly didn’t expect that we’d still be in this–although it’s possible now to do most of the activities I missed most over the past two years. I’ve been going to concerts and SCA events since last fall, with a break in the winter months when omicron first hit. I’ll take it, but our society is exhausted. Tempers are short, and the rough edges are showing again.

One of those concerts was on Friday. When the TSO announced their 2021-2 season, there was just one piece by Shostakovich on the entire schedule–his Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Folk Themes, op. 115 (1963). This work isn’t performed as often as, say, his similarly sparkling Festive Overture, so of course I jumped at the chance to spend a not-insignificant amount of money on a ticket. As it turned out, the TSO was sharing the stage with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra for this work, which meant probably about 120 people on stage. Honestly, I couldn’t stop smiling during the performance. It was amazing.

It isn’t often that I’d say the highlight of the evening went to a piece by Prokofiev over one by Shostakovich–but Jan Lisiecki’s performance of the former composer’s Piano Concerto no. 2 was just fire. It helps that the piece itself is incredibly spicy. I’d heard for ages that Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata no. 1 – an incredibly intense, almost painful-to-play work (because of the demands on the pianist)–pleased Prokofiev, who saw his own influence in it, and having heard this work, I can definitely see it. (Have I mentioned how much I adore Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata no. 1, which doesn’t really sound like anything else he ever wrote?) I had about the same seat I did for the earlier Beethoven concert, which afforded me an up-close look at Lisiecki’s hands, facial expressions, and body language. During the opening movement, at times he was nearly half standing up as he leaned into the keyboard, his fingers dancing over the keys with stunning virtuosity. A tall, slender young man with a shock of light brown hair, long fingers, black patent-leather shoes, and patterned socks, Lisiecki reminded me that another tall, slender young man with long fingers (but with much less blond hair) had written this work–and recreated it, after it was lost in the Revolution). By the time the second movement was over, I could see the sweat starting to drip on his face, but his utter athleticism combined with expression never wavered during a work that concluded, as the program notes indicated, with “an awesome exertion of power that reportedly left listeners at the premiere (which was in 1913) ‘frozen with fright.'” And then he followed up THAT with a gentle encore of Chopin–much more what he’s famous for.

There was also a short piece by Cris Derksen (who I love) that briefly confused me, as I forgot it was being played before the second piece after the intermission, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5, and it had me thinking “this doesn’t sound like Tchaikovsky at all! I really like this!” (For the record, I remain somewhat meh about Tchaikovsky–and about most of the later Romantics.)

There was also an end to one journey yesterday, and it passed anticlimactically. For approximately 20 months (27 if you start the clock with the very first piece, created in the Before Times), I have been embroidering Dmitri Shostakovich. Last night, I finished the fifteenth in that series. Shostakovich wrote 15 symphonies and 15 quartets, so that is a significant number. This piece is based on a photograph taken in Gaspra–an area now in contention–in May, 1937. It’s the height of the Great Purge, and Shostakovich is writing his 5th symphony. Here he sits on a rock by the Black Sea, alone. One wonders what he’s thinking as he looks into the distance. It also brings to mind the ending of the 15th symphony, that wonderfully hazy conclusion, infested with ticking percussion and clocklike chimes, and a soft unison chord not completed until that final note–in a major key. I listened to that last night as I added the painted portions of this piece (the rock, which is textured, and the sky).

I’ve written about how this all started (and even had an article published about it), although even I don’t quite understand the intensity of this thing, beyond the incredible improvement I saw in my own skills when I produced the fourth in the series (my first attempt at a photograph, and have continued to see since). That’s fed a desire to push on and try new things, to move into colour. I know it was partially spurred, at first, by the absence of concerts, but then, I think I realized this was something completely and uniquely mine. Many people have written diaries over the last two years; so have I. But this? This one’s my baby. I do intend, at some point in the near future, to go back and look at the descriptions of each of the pieces and to put a narrative together. I’d love to show these works together at some point, but have no idea where such an idiosyncratic collection would be appropriate.

So, am I done? Most certainly not. In all of the photos and paintings I’ve worked with,. Shostakovich is alone (with the exception of the cats in two of the photos). I want to do a few pieces with his family and friends. There’s a particular photo from the early 30s that includes both his first wife (Nina) and his best friend (Ivan Sollertinsky); it’s been colourized and that’s my next project. Well, my next Shostakovich project, because I am eager to embroider a St. Olga icon, and perhaps to finish the embroidery inspired by the mosaic at the music school in Pripyat–one where I’ve struggled with getting my vision into stitches. There’s an Art Deco door from a building in Vancouver that wants to be stitched, and the bomb aimer shot from the Lancaster…well, suffice it to say I am not lacking for ideas.

Meanwhile, there is the next six weeks to navigate. They’re rather full of events and concerts, a vintage clothing show, a trip to Montreal, Hamlet in Stratford. There’s still a pandemic. While I suspect most of those events and concerts and shows are safe, I have to keep myself safe and healthy. I have no temptation at all to remove my mask–maybe in the summer, but not until I navigate a period chock full of so many of the things that have been missed for so long, with my fingers crossed.