LENOX — Violinist Gil Shaham and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus will join the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Friday, Aug. 26 for a program of Dvorák, Shostakovich and Borodin.
BSO Assistant Conductor Anna Rakitina will lead the program. Only the second woman in the history of the orchestra to be appointed to this position, she has also conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, calls her “one of the most talented and promising young conductors I’ve come across.”
The violin concerto of Dvorák is from 1879, and although it has never outshone the famous German violin concertos of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruch and Brahms, it has an important place in the repertoire and is famed for its lyricism and eastern European verve. From the time of its entrance until the final chords, the presence of the solo violin is almost constant. The music goes high in its range, and one violinist has said that one should not even attempt to play it if one has a “fear of heights.”
In 1918, in the Soviet Union, May 1 was declared a public holiday, the Day of the International Solidarity of Workers. Before the vicious tyranny of Stalin became established, Shostakovich was a loyal Soviet citizen. His Symphony No. 3, which will be performed on Friday, subtitled “The First of May,” was written in 1929, when Shostakovich was still a graduate student. It is a large work, the last movement of which is a choral setting of the text of a patriotic poem by Semyon Kirsanov, who was a protégé of the poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky. The poem celebrates the Russian Revolution and the overthrow of the tsar.
Also on the program is another, lighter work by Shostakovich: a waltz from his film score “The First Echelon” (1955), a love story between the head of the Youth Communist League and a woman tractor driver, set in the context of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s drive to increase agricultural production across the far-flung republics of the Soviet Union. The waltz has that tinge of melancholy joy that is so typical of Shostakovich’s music.
Alexander Borodin was a doctor and an organic chemist, famous for his demonstration of nucleophilic substitution and for being one of the discoverers of the Aldol Reaction, a way of binding two different carbon compounds. In his spare time, Borodin was a composer, and he became sufficiently prominent to join a group that became known as “The Five” or “The Mighty Handful” — composers in St. Petersburg who met together in the 1850s to plan a nationalist Russian musical movement. The group included Mily Balakirev, the most musically proficient of the five, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin. They held meetings over a period of nearly 15 years. Borodin is best known today for his two symphonies, his two string quartets, the symphonic poem “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” and his opera “Prince Igor” (1887) set in twelfth-century Russia.
It is from the opera that the Polovtsian Dances come, where they form the climax to the second act. Several varied dances appear in this suite, some with chorus, evoking deliberately exotic scenes of folk dancing: “Dances of the Maidens,” “Dances of the Men,” “Dances of the Boys,” combinations of these, and “General Dances” for everyone. This kind of orientalism was common to The Five, since the USSR included five republics from Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). The composers thought that the inclusion of this kind of exoticism would help to separate Russian music from the musical hegemony of the Germans. Another, even better-known, example of Russian orientalism is Rimsky-Korsakov’s lengthy orchestral suite “Scheherazade,” composed in 1888.
The 1953 Broadway musical “Kismet” uses a great deal of Borodin’s music, including the Polovtsian Dances. And the hit song from that show, “Stranger in Paradise” (based on the music of the Maiden’s Dance) became hugely popular and was recorded by dozens of singers, including Tony Martin, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis, Jr., the Four Aces, Johnny Mathis and even Neil Young. Perhaps the best known is the version by Tony Bennett from 1953. Instrumental versions include those by Sun Ra, Peter Bernstein, Wes Montgomery and George Shearing.IF YOU GO ...8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 26: Anna Rakitina conducts Shostakovich, Dvořák and Borodin featuring Gil Shaham, violin
BSO Assistant Conductor Anna Rakitina leads frequent Tanglewood guest soloist Gil Shaham in Czech composer Antonín Dvořák’s great Violin Concerto. Three Russian works complete the program. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Ticket includes admission to the 6 p.m. prelude concert.
More information and tickets: 888-266-1200, bso.org