'This will actually be my first complete cycle of Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies. I have conducted most of them individually, but never all together in one cycle and never recorded, which we’ll be doing for LSO Live and which comes with much more responsibility!'
This project comes at the right time in my career, when I feel like I can say something worthwhile about this music. I have taken advantage of my time living in St Petersburg – not as a tourist, but living with the Russian people: going to the market, working in the Mariinsky Theatre; all helping me to understand life there – but it’s only now that I’m not there anymore that I can take a step back and see the music with some perspective.
For me it’s important to know what the atmosphere and the political situation was for Shostakovich when he was writing. For example, he poured everything into the Fourth Symphony and was convinced he had created something big and revolutionary. He expected to be praised and honoured for it, but of course it was the opposite and it was banned by the authorities. This is why he reacted with the “joyful” Fifth Symphony, which is really anything but. He put a lot of lipstick on it to make it good-looking and enchanting so that it would be accepted by the Soviet authorities.
The situation in which Shostakovich and his fellow artists, actors, musicians and architects found themselves is so relevant to today, and the story behind these symphonies needs to be understood. We sometimes lose the memories of the past, but we need to keep an eye on what happened next as it should be a warning to us. But we have ignored the warning and now we have walls going up between our cultures. We talk about saving our ‘western’ civilisation, of protecting our values, but we should be open to others; listening, learning. Only in this way will we save our civilisation. Culture is crucially important here, and our artistic institutions need to work harder together to create a common ground where we can be better people. The language of the arts has no boundaries.
It would be fascinating and intriguing to perform the symphonies in chronological order and to follow the trajectory of Shostakovich’s life from student in the First Symphony through to the greatest meditation on death in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth, but I believe that there are certain symphonies that are better to be tackled first. No 5, No 9, No 1, No 6 – these I think should be approached first as I’m more comfortable with them. Then maybe No 4, No 10, No 8; before moving onto the more complicated ones in terms of meaning – No 15, even No 2, which for me is the most enigmatic. These I have to spend much more time with before I’m ready to commit them to a performance, and hopefully by the time this LSO cycle reaches that point I’ll have a lot more interesting things to say about them!
I’m so looking forward to spending more time with the LSO. Every musician cares about what they are doing, they really commit themselves fully and are completely engaged. Shostakovich particularly demands this and it’s an incredible skill to have. In the last few years Valery Gergiev has worked with them on the darkness and velvet in their sound, and it makes a vast difference to this Russian music. I respect the LSO greatly as a group of players, because they understand how their individual talents as musicians should be shared – you will shine even more as a result. They push me to my maximum as a conductor. As a conductor your role is often to motivate the artists, to ask them to give you more. But the LSO – they are asking ME to give; to never stop giving. It’s so fruitful and rewarding to work in this way. Truly I would not have chosen any other Orchestra with which to do this project.
Gianandrea Noseda, LSO Principal Guest Conductor,