Subversive music is nothing new

Columbia Orchestra to offer `Clear and Present Danger'



Music is dangerous! Some individuals think that lyrics can brainwash people. Some individuals think that rock 'n' roll (and other kinds of pop music) can lead teenagers astray. The idea that music, or words or art can be subversive is hardly new -- the Greeks forbid the playing of music in certain modes (keys) to anyone other than military men.

At 7:30 p.m. June 3 , the Columbia Orchestra, in its last concert of the season, will perform a program with the theme "Clear and Present Danger," presenting two pieces whose subtexts reflect their cultures and transcend them: Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.

The concert will be held at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.

Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25, K.503 was composed in Vienna in 1786 and later performed with Mozart at the keyboard. Austria was ruled from 1740 through 1780 by Empress Maria Theresa and, afterward, by her son, Joseph II (famously quoted in the movie Amadeus -- "Too many notes; too many notes").

Three years before the French Revolution, there were winds of change sweeping across Europe. Mozart's work, in three movements, is an extremely ambitious effort that includes pomp, sentimental beauty and musical excitement at a time when the status quo was being questioned, when the rule of the aristocracy was showing signs of strain, when entertainment could be more than entertainment.

In 1786, Mozart was at work on his comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro, which underlines the divisions between the aristocracy and their servants, with the clever servants coming out ahead of their masters in many amusing ways.

The soloist is pianist Eric Zuber, a rising star who is studying at the Curtis Institute with Leon Fleisher after completing a bachelor's degree in music under the tutelage of Boris Slutsky at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University a year ago. Only 20 years old, Eric's talents have been evident for many years. He has won numerous competitions and continues to perform across the nation as a recitalist and soloist with symphonies including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Aspen Concert Orchestra and the Peabody Symphony Orchestra.

Shostakovich's 10th Symphony was premiered in 1953. It was composed while Stalin ruled with an iron fist, but Shostakovich wisely chose to unveil it only after Stalin's death that year.

Much has been written about the relationship between Shostakovich and Stalin's regime, and about the composer's ability to remain in favor (most of the time) while slipping subversive musical elements in under the noses of the censors.

This symphony is reputed to be autobiographical, and the first movement contains themes identified as representing the composer and Stalin.

The first movement (more than 20 minutes long) sustains a repetitive bass figure, ominous and unrelenting. Shostakovich's use of dissonance, specifically barred by censors who scanned his music for decadent (Western) tendencies, is a defiant statement of his own artistic integrity.

Although it will not be dangerous to attend Saturday's performance, it promises to be an exciting evening, and listeners will have the freedom to enjoy it fully. A preconcert discussion of the music and their historical contexts will be led by Bill Scanlon-Murphy at 6:30 p.m.

Ticket information: 410-715- 3087.

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