Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tanglewood: August 9, 1975

During the summer of 1975 the important person in residence at Tanglewood was Mstislav Rostropovich, who came there with his wife Galena Vishnevskaya and their two daughters, Olga, who played the cello, and Elena, who played the piano. It was a very exciting summer, filled with master classes where Rostropovich would tell charming stories (I remember that his humor was rather unrestrained). Near the end of the summer Rostropovich was scheduled to perform Shostakovich's Second Cello Concerto. Many people knew the first concerto, but very few people knew the second, a piece that Shostakovich wrote for Rostropovich in 1966. Only nine years old, it was a piece of relatively new music. I am pretty sure that this performance was the first by the Boston Symphony, and it could have even been the first American performance of the piece. Anyway, it was a big deal.

The fact that Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony was on the second half of the program offset any chance of losing the audience to an unfamiliar work. Everyone loves Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony.

During the intermission there was a bit of a commotion on stage, and then Galena Vishnevskaya walked to the center of the stage and sang an unaccompanied lament. Everybody wondered what it was about. Eventually Bill Moyer, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's personnel manager, came on stage. He told the audience that Dmitri Shostakovich had just died.

Then Rostropovich conducted the performance of the Fifth Symphony. It was an awesome performance in every way. Many thousands of people were in a state of collective mourning. Wherever "there" is when a person dies, that's where we all were.

(I seem to remember that the program was an all-Shostakovich program, but a passage quoting Oliver Knussen's recollections of the day on page 188 of Peggy Daniel's Tanglewood: A Group Memoir suggests that there might have been some Tchaikovsky on the program.)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Elaine--I remember you vividly from Tanglewood days (the cafeteria mainly) and also your brother Marshall(?). I read your blog from time to time with much pleasure out here in Suffolk. You seem to have a wonderfully fulfilled life. Now, about that Shostakovich moment-- as I recall, the death was announced Saturday night midway through a concert conducted by Rostropovich that ended with the 5th Symphony (his DG LP with the National SO has on the cover a photo of the score adorned with flowers after the concert). But I think he played the 2nd Cello Concerto (which I had heard on BBC TV at its first UK performance c.1966) on the Sunday afternoon. I remember being blown away by the whole weekend. Please reply if you get this to OK@drokcbe.demon.co.uk

TeeJay said...

I also attended the Shostakovich concert, and it was one of the most memorable and moving I have ever heard. Seiji Ozawa made the announcement of Shostakovich's death with Rostropovich at his side. The complete program was as follows (see http://www.koussevitzky.com/Html/BSTT_A76.html):

Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin - Letter Scene
Rimsky-Korsakov: The Tsar's Bride, Act I, Scene IV - Lyubashsa's Song (encore)
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5

TeeJay said...

I also attended the concert that included Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, and it remains one of the most memorable and moving I ever heard. Seiji Ozawa made the announcement of Shostakovich's death with Rostropovich at his side. Here is the complete program:

Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin - Letter scene
Rimsky-Korsakov: The Tsar's Bride - Act I, Scene IV - Lyubashsa's Song (encore)
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5

http://tinyurl.com/akvh4du
http://tinyurl.com/aoujqb5

Bryan said...

FYI - a recording of this concert has just been made available for download at a blog I follow called MetroGnome Music: http://metrognomemusic.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-day-shostakovich-died.html

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you for posting this, Bryan, and thank you all for piecing together what happened when that weekend.