USO: Discord Decoded – curious arts

The University of Alberta Symphony Orchestra delves into one of the most profoundly autobiographical musical testaments of the 20th century this weekend, performing Dmitry Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony on Sunday, Oct. 25 at 3 p.m. in Convocation Hall. Admission is by donation at the door.

I caught up with USO conductor Petar Dundjerski to find out more about the concert, entitled Discord Decoded. He says the first 15 minutes right at the top of the performance will be devoted to talking about Shostakovich and sharing some context with the audience about the story of Soviet oppression behind this work.

studio-e_web_EDJ_9727_smThe piece was written in Dresden over three days in July of 1960, for a project by Soviet and East German filmmakers about the bombing of Dresden in World War II. According to the score, it is dedicated “to the victims of fascism and war,” but several sources, including the composer’s daughter, have indicated the work was in fact dedicated to Shostakovich himself as a coded indictment of the Communist party.

Shostakovich assigned four notes to represent himself, the DSCH musical motif. Similar to the BACH motif, this musical cryptogram consisted of the notes DSCH, standing for the composer’s initials in German transliteration: D. Sch. (mitri Schostakowitsch). The motif is used in every movement of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony.  

“The full orchestra will play the coded segments in short snippets so the audience can really hear it and we can show the progression and how the different approaches to those four notes denote different feelings and imagery,” says Dundjerski. “The four notes are shattered sometimes. We will show when he is shaking with fear. The violence. We will show the bombs falling on Dresden, how he depicts this in the music…. It is pretty amazing. Pretty graphic and clear there is a story to this piece.”

As a palate cleanser, the USO will also play Heitor Villa-Lovos’ Bachianas and Holst’s exburant St. Paul Suite.  

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