After the Shostakovich Fourth, many people hope you'll be returning to Boston. And often. With the Boston Symphony we had a week of rehearsals. At the end of the week, I felt we had known each other all our lives. I'm glad we can be together in Tanglewood. [On July 19, Juroswski is conducting Wagner, Liszt's Totentanz with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Brahms's First Symphony.] I hope the relationship will continue. I'm very hopeful that we can develop a close artistic relationship.
Have you been to Tanglewood before? No. I was very lucky to see Bernstein once in Russia. I wanted to work with him, but he died two months before I made it to the West.
Why did you choose the Shostakovich/Beethoven program you're bringing here? Shostakovich and Beethoven have a lot in common. These are two works written out of deep necessity. The Shostakovich First Violin Concerto is almost a symphony with a violin solo. It's a philosophical piece, not just a virtuoso exercise — the voice of a tortured soul. It's some kind of confession — very personal, a very intimate monologue, a soliloquy, especially the first movement and the passacaglia. The solo violin cadenza stuck between movements three and four almost becomes a movement on its own. The orchestra plays an unusually prominent role, with specifically heavily-cast low strings. The symphonic approach is absolutely obvious. It couldn't be further removed from the romantic ideal of a virtuoso concerto designed to present the soloist. It's about very deep and important life matters. Life. Death. Fear. Feelings of guilt. It starts Shostakovich's later period — a new era in his instrumental concertos.
The actual connecting member between Beethoven and Shostakovich is Gustav Mahler, the great interpreter of Beethoven in his time. This Shostakovich concerto is really in the most Mahlerian vein. In 1948, Shostakovich was called a cosmopolitan formalist — he was labeled as almost an enemy of the people, forced to admit to his "failings" and take the blame. His music for public performances during these years was strictly tonal, glorifications of Stalin, the System. The Violin Concerto he wrote for himself, a personal diary with no chance for being performed or published. But he had to write it.
It's quite different from the epic symphonism of his symphonies 4 through 8. The language is very tonal with a hugely important role of polyphony, an attention to Baroque forms. Neo-Baroque. With emotions of despair, sorrow, anger, you need a formal corset — Shostakovich finds it in Baroque forms.
I think the Beethoven Fifth must be one of the hardest symphonies to do. You're right. Beethoven is one of the biggest challenges for an orchestra and conductor. I waited a long time to start performing this symphony. Four and Seven I've done a lot more. With the Fifth I really waited. Beethoven meant this symphony to be not only revolutionary but shockingly emotional, with echoes of the French Revolution and first Napoleonic war. It has a revolutionary feel to it, an inexorable emotional progression from darkness to light that's quite difficult to transmit these days. Players know it so well, it has become a warhorse. We simply present the neatly wrapped package of the music without too much meaning to it.