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Jean Oelrich
Director of Marketing & Communications
(714) 876-2380

Pacific Symphony and Chapman University join forces for—“Decoding Shostakovich”—Festival to explore iconic composer through variety of events, now through Feb. 8

December 02, 2013

Chapman and Symphony concerts and programs together explore in-depth one of Russia’s most fascinating and intriguing composer—his life and music

Events include concerts, discussions, film, dance, lecture, piano recital, theater, symposium, book club and master classes

One of Russia’s most fascinating and complex composers—Dmitri Shostakovich—goes under the magnifying glass when Pacific Symphony partners with Chapman University’s Global Arts Program to present “Decoding Shostakovich,” a festival dedicated to the iconic composer, whose life unfolded under the Soviet system. There are myriad reasons for a festival devoted to this fascinating man, beginning with the tremendous impact he had on classical music in Russia and beyond. Through classical concerts and a wide array of presentations (discussions, film, dance, lecture, piano recital, theater, symposium, book club and master classes), “Decoding Shostakovich” probes deeply into the man to reveal the composer’s relationship to his home country, its culture and politics and the effects these had on his music. The festival, which began in November, continues into February 2014. For more information about “Decoding Shostakovich,” visit: (See the complete festival schedule below.)

“I am so very excited about our ever developing partnership with Chapman University,” says the Symphony’s Music Director Carl St.Clair. “We are uniting our two worlds and are creating some incredible new projects. Our Shostakovich festival is just one powerful example. Through this collaboration we are able to explore the rich and compelling story of Dimitri Shostakovich and his gripping music with profound depth.”

“This series of events—including performances of Shostakovich’s work, as well as panels, exhibits, and films—is a wonderful beginning for what we believe will be a very successful partnership between Chapman University and Pacific Symphony,” said Daniele Struppa, Ph.D., chancellor of Chapman University. “Music is indeed a vital part of the history of ideas, and the nature of our partnership is to bring to light such interplay in ways that will indelibly connect music to history and to other forms of art.”

In addition to St.Clair and Struppa, key individuals behind the festival include Symphony Artistic Advisor Joseph Horowitz and Russian pianist Alexander Toradze. Also making a rare public appearance at this festival is Russian journalist and musicologist Solomon Volkov who wrote “Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich.” When first published in 1979, “Testimony” became an international bestseller.

Volkov’s powerful memoir, which an ailing Shostakovich (1906-76) dictated to the young Russian musicologist, dramatically changed the perception of Shostakovich’s life and work and influenced innumerable performances of his music. It also reveals that the greatest influence on Shostakovich and the Russians of his generation was the Soviet culture (1930-53), which included the reign of Stalin, the impact of Hitler and decades defined by the horrors of war. It was a time that left people craving an outlet for their fear and grief. But the state-sponsored arts—symphonies, novels, dances and films, etc.—imposed cheer and optimism, and therefore didn’t follow the Soviet aesthetics of “Socialist Realism,” the sole purpose of which was to further the goals of socialism and communism. With the Nazi invasion came a desperate need by the Russian people to express emotions of fear, sadness and mourning, and the arts became an imperative means of escape. This festival explores how that happened and how Shostakovich was an integral part of it all.

Over the course of the 20th-century, the symphony was thought by some in America and Europe to be virtually extinct as a genre. But this was not the case in Soviet Russia, where Shostakovich and fellow composer Sergei Prokofiev produced symphonies that swiftly entered the standard repertoire—and filled the great societal need.

“What finally impresses is the pact that Shostakovich forged with a mass of listeners,” says Horowitz, the festival’s artistic advisor. “His music resonated with the needs and aspirations of a great public. It performed a therapy.”

When the composer died, The New York Times obituary called him a faithful member of the Communist Party—a “loyal Communist.” No one would say that today, says Volkov, who at the end of “Testimony,” quotes Shostakovich as saying: “I can’t go on describing my unhappy life. There were no particularly happy moments in my life, no great joys. It was gray and dull and it makes me sad to think about it. It saddens me to admit it, but it’s the truth, the unhappy truth.”

Adds Volkov: “He was a broken man when he talked to me. Physically—he couldn’t even put on his coat by himself. He would complain to me of his difficulty in walking, that he felt he was made of glass.”

His music, however, reveals something else entirely.

A Glance at the Festival

Exploring the complex composer throughout his emotional turmoil and creative genius, the festival opened on Nov. 15 with a performance by the Chapman Orchestra at Fish Interfaith Center on the Chapman campus. The program included Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto for Strings and Trumpet.

This prelude performance paved the way for the festival to heat up, beginning in January with a variety of offerings open to the public (unless otherwise noted), including an art exhibition, co-curated by Wendy Salmond and Mark Konecny, in the Argyros Forum exhibition cases, called “Everyday Stalinism”—ephemera and material culture from the Ferris Collection of the Institute of Modern Russian Culture at the University of Southern California (USC). The exhibition, which continues through February, depicts ordinary life in extraordinary times—the era of Soviet Russia under the regime of Joseph Stalin—through rare books, periodicals, photographs, posters and artifacts connected to this era.

An accompanying exhibition in the Leatherby Libraries, called “American Tourists in Stalin’s Russia,” contains memoirs by American visitors to Soviet Russia circa 1930-1953, from the collection of the Institute of Modern Russian Culture at USC—Stalinist Russia in American press coverage (Time, Life Magazine).

A “Presentation on Shostakovich,” with Volkov and Horowitz, takes place on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, 2-3:30 p.m. in Salmon Recital Hall, Bertea Hall, at Chapman University. This interview and presentation aims to uncover what lies beneath the surface of Shostakovich’s music and also examines the composer’s belief that an artist is a moral spokesperson.

Recognized as a masterful virtuoso with deep lyricism and intense emotion, powerhouse pianist Toradze joins Maestro St.Clair and Pacific Symphony, along with guests Volkov and Horowitz, to introduce a journey into the music of Shostakovich on Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2014, at 8 p.m., in the Reneé and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. The first half of the concert is a dramatic presentation by Horowitz that includes St.Clair, actor David Prather portraying Shostakovich, music and historical film clips, providing insight into Shostakovich the man. For the second half of the evening, the orchestra delves into Symphony No. 10, perhaps the composer’s best work, at once melancholy and intense. It’s a piece that Horowitz calls “monumental…of a different, darker cast, a work many consider his supreme—his most humbling, most necessary—symphonic achievement.” The program also includes excerpts from “Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk”; excerpts from Symphony No. 5; and Piano Concerto No. 2, performed by Toradze.

Upon first entering the concert hall lobby, patrons find themselves taken back to the time of Stalin’s Soviet Union—the oppressive environment Shostakovich endured. Additionally, a student quartet comprised of Chapman music students performs Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8. A pre-concert presentation takes place at 7 p.m., led by Horowitz, with Volkov, Prather and film. The Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation with additional support from American Airlines, The Westin South Coast Plaza, KUSC and PBS SoCal. The Jan. 30 performance is sponsored by Catherine and James Emmi. Tickets are $25-$185; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit

Pacific Symphony’s Book Club focuses on Volkov’s “Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich”—the seminal study of Stalin’s cultural dictatorship and its harrowing impact on Russia’s most famous 20th-century composer. The manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and has to this day never been published in Russia. The book club meets for a discussion of “Testimony” led by Volkov and Horowitz on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, at 1 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, preceding the Sunday Connections concert (see more below). To take part in the Book Club, contact facilitator Susan Key, Ph.D, at susan.key01@gmail.

Then, for the Symphony’s Sunday Connections concert on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, at 3 p.m., in the Reneé and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the spotlight shines solely on Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony, as St.Clair and the orchestra showcase and dissect the composer’s greatest work. Full of tragedy, terror and, ultimately, triumph, Shostakovich’s electrifying symphony is also full of memorable musical ideas. Tickets are $25-$95; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit

“A work such as the 10th Symphony is a communal rite,” says Horowitz. “In the wake of Stalin’s death, it charts a trajectory evolving from pain and terror to giddy release. Its first performances were an act of purgation. Counteracting the ‘music lovers’ Hitler and Stalin, it redeems music as a moral factor in the tortuous annals of 20th-century culture.

“Whatever one makes of the possible extra-musical content of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony—whatever the pertinence of Stalin’s terror—it is a symphony that begins with an avalanche of grief,” he continues. “The avalanche takes the form of a massive, 20-minute first movement that slowly and inexorably heaves to an anguished climax, recedes and then attains an even higher climax, inhumanly sustained.”

A special Master Class for Chapman orchestra students on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 7:30-9:30 p.m., in Crean Hall, Oliphant Hall, at Chapman University, is available to Chapman Orchestra students only and focuses on specific Shostakovich pieces. The instructors—Volkov, Robert Becker, Pacific Symphony’s principal violist and Chapman University professor, and pianist Toradze—guide and mentor students in order for them to take their musical talent to a higher level. The master class includes discussion of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1; Viola Sonata; and “Scherzo” from Symphony No. 10.

A special Master Class for Chapman dance students” takes place Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 4:15-5:30 p.m. in the Partridge Dance Center at Chapman University, when artistic director of the Los Angeles Ballet, Colleen Neary, and dancers from the Los Angeles Ballet, present a lecture/demonstration on the Balanchine Technique. Neary also speaks about her years working as a dancer with Balanchine.

A “Shostakovich Concert”—on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, at 7 p.m., at Memorial Hall at Chapman University—is an evening hosted by Chapman University’s Chancellor Daniele Struppa. This multi-media presentation with dialogue between Chancellor Struppa and Volka is followed by a performance of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata by pianist Toradze and Symphony violist Becker. Following the performance, Struppa engages in a discussion with Becker and Toradze. A reception takes place at the conclusion.

On Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, from 7-9 p.m., Chapman’s Hall-Musco Conservatory presents “Soviet Film Music by Shostakovich” and his contemporaries in Bertea Hall, Room 109, at Chapman University. Open to the public, attendees watch and discuss excerpts from “Alexander Nevsky,” scores by Prokofiev; “Hamlet” and “King Lear,” scores by Shostakovich; and other films. Presents include Amy Graziano (Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music, Chapman University) and Roger Hickman (Rick Cole Conservatory of Music, California State University, Long Beach.

“Shostakovich: the Arranger and the Arranged” is the title of “Music Around Noon,” a lecture by Chapman composer Vera Ivanova, who discusses compositions from the early period of the composer’s life, when some of his writing was influenced by stylistic and orchestral features of popular music of the time. This presentation features popular excerpts from Shostakovich’s ballet “The Golden Age” in various arrangements by the composer himself and others. This lecture takes place Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., in Salmon Recital Hall, Bertea Hall, at Chapman University.

Also on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, at 7:30 p.m., in Salmon Recital Hall, Bertea Hall, at Chapman University is a President’s Piano Series recital—a night filled with the harmonious melodies of Prokofiev and Shostakovich performed by two prestigious pianists. The masterful virtuoso Toradze, known for his deep, poetic lyricism and intense emotional involvement, joins forces with Vakho Kodanashvili, who has received numerous awards and has been a soloist at major music festivals and symphony orchestras around the world. The program includes: Prokofiev: Sonata No. 6 and Sonata No. 7 and Visions Fugitives; and Shostakovich: Concertino.

A master class for conservatory voice students focuses on Soviet Russian literature and features Vladimir Chernov, baritone, instructing students in order to improve their musical ability and take their performance to a higher level. This event takes place Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, noon-2 p.m., at Salmon Recital Hall, Bertea Hall, at Chapman University.

Russian influence on American acting, theatre and film is the topic of a lecture scheduled for Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, at 3-4:30 p.m., in Argyros Forum 209C. Led by John B. Benitz, Thomas Bradac and Michael E. Nehring, from Chapman University’s Department of Theatre, this event discusses Russia’s influence (Stanislavsky and others) on American acting, theatre and film.

The ideology of Stalinism is the subject of a symposium called “Ideology and Culture in Russia (1930-1953),” taking place on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., in Argyros Forum 207, at Chapman University. The symposium explores how Stalin’s ideology shaped every sphere of life and mentality in Russia between 1930 and 1953. These spheres included: music, art, film, sports, law, religion, education and childhood. Experts from the United States—Andrew Jenks, J. Arch Getty, Katerina Clark, Lilya Kaganovskaya and Randi K. Barnes-Cox—explore the power of ideology to shape both public culture and private experience.