The mood will be deeply Slavic this Sunday afternoon at the final concert of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s 113th season, 3 p.m. at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono. Pieces by Alexander Borodin, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, Sergey Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich will be performed, with the orchestra led by guest conductor Eric Thomas, a professor at Colby College.
Two generations of Russian classical music are represented — from Borodin’s spirited, sprightly Polovtsian Dances from his 1890 opera “Prince Igor,” to a suite adapted from movements of Prokofiev’s exquisitely lovely 1935 ballet “Romeo and Juliet.” The Shostakovich piece to be performed, his Concerto No. 1 in C Minor for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, will feature solo performances from pianist Phillip Silver and trumpeter William Whitener.
Silver, an associate professor of music at the University of Maine, finds the Shostakovich piece to be an engaging challenge — particularly from a pianist’s point of view.
“Shostakovich himself was an incredible pianist. He played Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ [among the most difficult widely known piano compositions], so if he can do that, he could do anything,” said Silver. “There’s just tremendous craftsmanship in the piece. You can practice it for months and months and still find something new in it. It’s constructed very tightly. It’s wonderful.”
In keeping with the theme of the concert, the Shostakovich concerto is deeply Russian — emotionally rich, and full of wildly intense changes of mood and tempo.
“It’s a very typically Russian type of piece. The first movement is so funny and joyful, and then the second movement is just hauntingly beautiful and incredibly depressing. It’s all over the place,” said Silver. “I don’t know who said it, but I’ve heard the quote that ‘a Russian is never better when he’s unhappy.’ The second movement is really the jewel of it.”
Silver shares a common ancestry with the work of Shostakovich — both he and the Russian composer were deeply influenced by Gustav Mahler. There’s also the fact that Shostakovich, as a daring and progressive composer operating in the Soviet Union, continually ran up against opposition from the Stalinists. Silver has done much research on the music and musicians caught up in the Holocaust. The art that is created while the artist lives in an oppressive regime is nothing new to him.
“Shostakovich is, to me, one of those tragic figures who had to accommodate a political regime, and still find a way to be creatively honest,” said Silver. “He had to make his art in such a way as to not jeopardize what freedom was allowed to him.”
In addition to the pieces by Borodin, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin, and Stravinsky’s Berceuse and Finale from The Firebird. Tickets for the concert are available by calling 581-1755. For information, visit www.bangorsymphony.org.