The program will take an in-depth look at Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 and the tense circumstances surrounding its creation. The composer was in the midst of writing this very untraditional symphony when, in January 1936, Pravda published the editorial that would change his life — and the entire course of the arts in the Soviet Union.
The unsigned essay, titled "Muddle in Place of Music" and thought to be ordered (and possibly written) by Stalin himself, was an angry denunciation of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which had been enjoying enormous success in the two years since its premiere. Once the article appeared, the opera disappeared from Russian stages almost overnight and Socialist Realism swiftly became the governing style for the arts in the USSR. Shostakovich himself cancelled the premiere of his Fourth Symphony, which wasn't performed until 1961; his next symphony, the Fifth, was subtitled "A Soviet Artist's Response to Just Criticism."
Serving as narrator will be Gerard McBurney, creative director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Beyond the Score series. (This program is a co-production with the CSO, which presented it in January 2006.) Abraham will provide dramatic readings of contemporary accounts of the period — poems by Osip Mandelshtam and Marina Tsvetayeva as well as writings by Shostakovich himself and by Stalin — interspersed with archival film footage and photos from Stalinist Russia. On the podium will be conductor Andrey Boreyko, who makes his New York Philharmonic debut with that week's concerts.
Abraham — known for his work in film (Amadeus, Scarface, The Name of the Rose), television (Marco Polo, The Betrothed) and theater (Angels in America, Uncle Vanya, Cyrano de Bergerac, Waiting for Godot) — is developing a high reputation for his spoken-word performances with orchestra. He has performed Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex with the Chicago Symphony, the same composer's L'Histoire du soldat with the Detroit Symphony and the New York Philharmonic, and Copland's A Lincoln Portrait, also with the Philharmonic.
Inside the Music — Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 is on Friday, December 14 at 8 p.m. at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center. Information and tickets are available at www.nyphil.org.