Friday-Sunday, June 4-6, 2021
Joshua Weilerstein, guest conductor
Conrad Tao, piano
STILL Poem for Orchestra
GERSHWIN Piano Concerto in F
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 5
Perspective. Unique to every person, and often the beauty of interpreting art and music. For Dmitri Shostakovich, keen perspective probably saved his life. He wrote his Fifth Symphony in 1937 at the height of Stalin’s purges when Russian life was especially terrifying. Anyone who breathed even a hint of opposition was arrested, imprisoned, tortured or executed. Stalin had deemed Shostakovich’s previous works too modern and complex to be communist, so it became literally a matter of life and death to appease the merciless ruler. With Shostakovich’s next major work, he added an apologetic note titled, “A Soviet Artist’s Creative Response to Just Criticism,” and made sure to mention the work had a “joyous, optimistic” finale. The regime ate it up. The public liked it too. The result is powerful music — unsettling, sensitive and conflicted. And the unanswered question remains … was he a devoted Soviet or secretive rebel? There are some hints the symphony’s finale was “forced rejoicing.” From delicate playfulness to an earth-shattering climax of blazing sound, guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein leads the Kansas City Symphony in this masterwork that will resonate with you long after the last note sounds.
The first half also explores perspective with William Grant Still and George Gershwin — both leading American composers but with drastically different styles and human experiences. In 1944, Still returned from serving in World War II, while just two decades earlier, in 1925, Gershwin was living the Roaring Twenties lifestyle. Still’s Poem for Orchestra imagines the world’s spiritual rebirth after the devastation of war. Its final chord lingers with a hopeful outlook. The prodigiously talented guest Conrad Tao will paint a carefree dreamscape with Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, featuring the composer’s signature stylings, syncopated rhythms and catchy melodies à la American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue. It’s the Gershwin you know and love from Broadway and Hollywood!