As we celebrate 20 years of LSO Live, LSO Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda reflects on his Shostakovich symphony cycle and how music speaks to us today.
'A cycle of symphonies gives the complete picture. Shostakovich started at a very early age with Symphony No 1, and finished just a few years before he died with Symphony No 15, so he covered decades. It’s storytelling of his life, but also of what was going on in the history of the world in the 20th century. It’s fascinating to see how an artist like Shostakovich reacted to that – how, with art, he tried to be true to himself, while also trying to accomplish the dictates of the Soviets. You have to find your way, to make your personal voice heard. When you listen to Shostakovich, it doesn’t sound out of fashion – it sounds important for our lives today.
Conducting a cycle with one orchestra also allows you to grow together, not just as artists, but in the knowledge of the composer. Shostakovich is one of the most important symphonists. He knows how to use the orchestra, the instruments, the combination of sounds, but because of that the music is incredibly demanding. It requires stupendous virtuosity, and the LSO is that kind of orchestra. You have to keep the emotional charge without losing technical control.
In the 2019/20 season, we’ll perform the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Symphonies, which are three of the four ‘War’ Symphonies written during World War II. With the Seventh and the Ninth, we face one of Shostakovich’s smallest and one of his biggest symphonies. The Seventh coincided with the Siege of Leningrad, and you can hear the march of the soldiers, the obsessive repetition, a loop you cannot escape. But with the Ninth, Stalin wanted a celebration of the victory of Russia, and Shostakovich came out with a sort of opera buffa symphony – short, witty, lots of sarcasm. I can really feel his wish to go against what was expected of him.
It’s important that we continue to hear and perform this music. It’s not superfluous to create another disc, another cycle, because each interpretation tells the story of its own time. To record Shostakovich in the 1970s and to record Shostakovich in 2019 and 2020 is different, because the world is different, because we are different.
Shostakovich speaks equally to us today. I think art has this quality, this strength, to always be fresh. We tell stories that connect with us as human beings. As long as mankind occupies this planet, we will always love each other, hate each other, feel compassion, suffer … the infrastructure of our lives may be different, but we belong to humankind. And music speaks to all of us, even if it was written in a different historical period.'