Shostakovich and the Universal Language of Music

By Young Choi

On March 14th, the Miami University Symphony Orchestra gave a free concert to the public in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Miami University Orchestra.  The concert, particularly Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1, celebrated the importance of music and how it functions as a universal language, often illuminating complex histories.

The concert was in conjunction with the College Orchestra Directors Association and the 2015 International Conference (CODA). The Miami Orchestra was conducted by Ricardo Averbach, who is the president of CODA. The concert featured Beethoven’s Overture Leonara No. 3 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 in addition to the world premiere of the live orchestration of Romain Paillot’s animated movie, “Dum Spiro.”.

The Miami Symphony Orchestra started off the concert with Beethoven’s Overture Leonara No. 3, a very light, spring like tune. Beethoven’s piece was an airy and sweet sound. It was a pleasant call for the oncoming spring season. The soft, willowing sounds of the flute were the star of the piece, which also added to the spring like atmosphere of the song. The strings and bass very nicely complemented flute and added a vivacious air to the tune. The strings and bass began to have much more emphasis as they crescendoed and the overture transformed into a grandiose, upbeat march.

The Orchestra’s second piece, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1, was more complex and darker in tone than Beethoven’s overture. The piece began with a unique plucking of the string instruments that permeated the rest of the symphony as the backdrop and foundation of the piece. The first part of Shostakovich’s Symphony had a very whimsical, dream like tone; however, as the piece kept building, more layers of strings and trumpets were added on and it turned into a chaotic and distorted beautiful mess. Amongst the organized confusion, a low clarinet solo contrasted against the offbeat of the symphony giving the piece a dark, somber tone. In the final part of the symphony, the mood changed into an intensity in which a sense of deep urgency was depicted. An underlying tension had been brewing throughout the piece and it finally surfaced and exploded in the third act.

The final piece of the concert was the world premiere of Romain Paillot’s animated movie “Dum Spiro.” The live orchestra played in synchronization with the film. It was an exciting, final portion of the concert as the film presented a young Viking on a mission to deliver a message while having to overcome obstacles that a bear presented. “Dum Spiro” was a creative and innovative way to present orchestral music.

At the beginning of the concert, one of the directors of CODA gave a small speech about the value of music as a universal language especially during times of war, peace, joy, and sorrow. Shostakovich, a prominent Russian composer during the Soviet era, understood this message of music and used his skills to depict the complexity of life in the Soviet Union. The distorted confusion and paranoia depicted in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 provide insight into the general atmosphere of Soviet Russia during that time. Music has the ability to reveal a truth in which words cannot sufficiently depict. Music truly is a universal language that has the power of empathy to bridge cultures and even time periods and Miami’s Symphony Orchestra illustrated this truth.

Young Choi is a sophomore at Miami majoring in Marketing and Media Studies.

This entry was posted in Lecture Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.