Music Director Michael Morgan has programmed the opening concert for the Oakland Symphony with a pair of symphonies by Beethoven and Dmitri Shostakovich, calling it Icons/Iconoclasts. Both descriptors apply to both composers, Morgan says. They wrote towering works that helped expand the world of classical music, by defying convention and staking new ground. Beethoven’s famous fifth symphony is joined by the final symphony of Shostakovich, which Morgan says recaps the entirety of a human life.
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Recently, Morgan celebrated his 60th birthday, and he says that gave him some additional freedom in programming the concert. “The main philosophy of the concert was I just had a significant birthday, and we were going to do whatever I wanted.” So he decided to revisit the Fifth (he’d performed it at the Bear Valley Music Festival not too long ago, and decided it was time for Oakland to play it again. “You find as you’ve done it many times, it gets more compact, it becomes more of a single thing from the beginning to the end, it’s like everything else about conducting, it just gets better as you do it.” The Shostakovich continues the recent cycle of his symphonies, (the 8th and the 9th have been performed in the past few seasons) but this piece is unique. “It’s amazing though that it really is an iconic work, and it’s from the 1970s. I mean, there are many of us who totally remember the 1970s. Generally… Generally, iconic works are from some time long ago that you don’t remember… It encompasses the entire life experience. You know, there are pieces that are good about displaying youthful energy, there are pieces that are good about end of life, like Mahler 9 or something. I don’t know a piece that’s better at the entire life cycle than Shostakovich 15. The first movement being very youthful and innocent, the second movement being really adulthood, and the struggles in and out of that. The third movement is a bit of a dance macabre, sort of a scherzo, because once you pass a certain point in life, you are in fact in a dance macabre until it’s over. And then the fourth movement is resignation and acceptance of fate. In its way a rather nostalgic movement.”