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“The King of the Modern Orchestra” - Rodion Shchedrin’s 80th Birthday

Rodion Shchedrin is one of the most important and worldwide best-known Russian composers in succession to Dmitri Shostakovich. When Shostakovich died in 1975, Shchedrin was 43 years old. It was the time during which his greatest and most frequently performed works were composed: the ballets “Carmen Suite” (1967), “Anna Karenina” (1971) and then later “The Seagull” (1979) as well as “The Lady with the Lapdog” (1985). His adaptation of the great operatic work “Carmen” of Georges Bizet into a refined orchestral work entitled “Carmen Suite” is one of the most frequently performed ballets of the 20th and early 21st centuries. On 16 December 2012, the composer, now living in Munich and Moscow, will celebrate his 80th birthday.

The extraordinarily individual style of this composer or – as the two-year-younger Russian composer Alfred Schnittke once expressed it – the “Shchedrin phenomenon”, is also based on the special talent of Shchedrin the pianist, who was once trained by Jakov Flier. Remarkable too are Shchedrin’s tendency towards experimentation as well as his strong link with folklore, but also to archaic, early forms of music to which he connects avant-garde techniques including serial and aleatoric techniques.

Shchedrin’s palatably beautiful, almost film-music illustrative “Anna-Karenina” is contrasted with polyphonic and complexly constructed compositions of demure strictness such as the “Music for the City of Köthen”. His “Polyphonic Notebook” for piano continues a tradition leading back to Bach and resumed in Russia by Shostakovich with his Preludes and Fugues and points to the excellent pianist Shchedrin, like many other works of his for keyboard instruments. He continues to appear as an outstanding interpreter of his own piano and organ works.

The “Music for the City of Köthen” was composed in 1984 on the occasion of the Bach memorial year 1985 (300th birthday) and, with its refined polyphony, is also reminiscent of the neoclassicism in Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks”. The orchestral work “Stichira for the Millennial Celebration of the Conversion of Russia to Christianity”, on the other hand, was composed in 1988. The occasion was a memorial year, for in the year 988 the Grand Duke Vladimir was the first Russian to be baptised in the Dnieper in the capital city of Kiev. The basis of the work is so-called sign singing (Snamenny rospew), also called “checkmark” singing (Krjuki). Krjuki are Russian neumes, a kind of notation of religious song without lines that was customary in old Russia for centuries. It does not designate individual tones, but melodic steps, turns of phrase, cadences and sometimes entire musical phrases.

Rodion Shchedrin’s two-volume collection of Preludes and Fugues for piano was composed in 1964 and 1970 and dedicated to his father, Konstantin Michailovich Shchedrin. With this cycle, Rodion Shchedrin placed himself in the long tradition of composers who have in this way honoured and newly interpreted the work of Johann Sebastian Bach. Alongside this, the direct influence of Dmitri Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 composed 1950/51 is unmistakeable.

"I remember the musical impressions of my childhood. In the early morning of a summer day, over two fields and across a river, I hear remote, unordered tones sounding rich in their resonance, vertically filling up the space."

With these words, Rodion Shchedrin described the character of his wind trio “Three Shepherds” for flute, oboe and clarinet. In this chamber work, commissioned in 1988 by the Kuhmo (Finland) Chamber Music Festival, the composer develops a rhapsodic-improvisatory musical language that does justice to the characters of each instrument. Shchedrin’s brief, virtuoso instrumental piece “Russian Tunes” for violoncello solo demands a number of difficult playing techniques from the cellist. Tremoli on harmonics and pizzicati reminiscent of the sound of the balalaika are contrasted with strongly expressive sostenuto passages and triplet runs that, in the end, die away in the highest regions of the cello, more or less as glissandi.

 

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