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Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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Despite the efforts of Soviet officials, Shostakovich's Symphony no. 13 (Babi Yar) debuted in Moscow in 1962. What rattled nerves at the Kremlin was not so much the music as the Yevgeny Yevtushenko poem to which the first movement was set. A year earlier the young poet had been to Babi Yar, where tens of thousands of Jews had been killed during World War II. Profoundly moved by what he saw, Yevtushenko dashed off his sorrowful yet indignant memorial the next day. Its publication caused a furor because it exposed Russian duplicity in the massacre as well as lingering anti-Semitism. After Shostakovich set the poem to music, Yevtushenko said the score "made the poem greater, more meaningful and powerful." The music soon became the first movement of a symphony for bass soloist and male chorus; four more movements were set to other Yevtushenko poems ("Humor," "In the Store," "A Career," and "Fears"). This monumental symphony is among Shostakovich's finest, its stark, spare settings underscoring the power of Yevtushenko's words. It's at once a statement on the human condition and a poignant eulogy for the victims of inhumanity. Georg Solti, who's never conducted the work before, will lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the men of the CSO chorus in performances this week; the soloist will be Sergej Aleksashkin, a Russian bass making his local debut. Mozart's appropriately somber Symphony no. 25 fills the top half of the bill. Friday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Patrick Litchfield.

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