As our world now oozes emotions of fear, chaos, and protest, we can see the marks of this pandemonium in all kinds of entertainment. These traces aren’t only linked to the CD covers of angry punk bands; they are echoing through the walls of concert halls such as Philadelphia’s Academy of Music.
Music reflects joy, music reflects pain, and these sensations existed long before today’s youth became collectively aware of the magnitude of passions derived from controversial violence. From Thursday November 8th until Tuesday November 13th, The Philadelphia Orchestra performed a powerful piece of music that slammed the audience with a composer’s views of the political and humanitarian affairs of his time.
Born in St. Petersburg, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) wrote his Eleventh Symphony of 1957 partly as a testimonial of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. Shostakovich’s deepest primary inspiration, however, was Russia’s Revolution of 1905. This occurred when the people of Russia concluded that their Tsar should be overthrown, after unarmed workers were killed in St. Petersburg Palace Square for petitioning to their Tzar for relief from inflation and poverty.
The blatant nature of his statement put him in some danger in a setting where speech freedoms had many barriers. Shostakovich’s angry musical response made a Philadelphian audience squirm in their plush red seats as percussion simulated a funeral march; brass cried out wails of injustice; and two harps proclaimed feelings of eerie unrest through their hushed, repeated melody.
“Shostakovich symphonies are pieces where, ideally, you can hear a pin drop in the audience because everyone sits on the edge of their seats,” Jessica Eves, a sophomore vocal performance major at Temple said. “The way he orchestrates it, it’s very gut-wrenching. There are certain moments where it takes you by surprise, and you don’t quite know how to react to it. “The composer himself once said that his Eleventh Symphony is about people who “have stopped believing, because the cup of evil has run over.”
More contemporary music also features commentary on current affairs. In “Not So Soft,” folk-singer Ani DiFranco states, “Those who call the shots are never in the line of fire / why when there is life for hire out there / if a flag of truth were raised we could watch every liar rise to wave it.” One might recall anti-war songs of the late sixties and early seventies, such as “War” by Edwin Starr. The song chants, “They say we must fight to keep our freedom, but Lord knows there’s got to be a better way.”
From lyrically driven folk to reactive symphonic melodies, music, a timeless medium, will always carry some stamp of the issues of a moment in time.
Students interested in exploring works featured at the Academy of Music can purchase student tickets at the Academy’s box office prior to most concerts. The contents of each Philadelphia Orchestra program can we found at www.phillyorch.org.