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About this performance

Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3
Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Benjamin Northey conductor
Stefan Cassomenos piano

The concert
Music under the machine of war.

One of the most hotly debated and discussed pieces of the 20th century, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5 was written at the height of Stalin’s influence across the Soviet Union, after the composer himself felt the personal sting of the dictator’s regime.

Two towering talents of Russian repertoire, Shostakovich and Prokofiev come alive in this thrilling demonstration of their brilliance at the Melbourne Town Hall.

Early in 1936, Dmitri Shostakovich attended a performance of his opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, to find Joseph Stalin in attendance. Though it had been a critically lauded work, the General Secretary left before the opera’s end. The reputation of the piece and of the composer quickly began to fall a part. Friends deserted him and his music was denounced. Shostakovich's compositional style was deemed too modern to be considered appropriately communist.

He did write a Symphony No.4, but Shostakovich withdrew it shortly before its intended premiere. Almost a year would pass before his Fifth Symphony would be performed, a work which carried with it the tagline given by a journalist, “a Soviet artist’s response to just criticism”. This piece was a political and public success, and has provided challenging interpretative perspectives for listeners ever since.

The pragmatic Sergei Prokofiev covered a wide musical breadth, having written the film score of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky; the beloved orchestral work for children, Peter and the Wolf; and the ballet Romeo and Juliet. He was not one to let ideas go to waste, and his Piano Concerto No. 3 is an example of this attitude. Compiled from pieces originally intended for other works, his Third Piano Concerto took shape in Leningrad (St Petersburg), was completed in France and premiered in Chicago, in 1921. The American public didn’t love the piece, but it would go on to become one of the most popular piano concertos of the entire 20th century.

Led by Principal Conductor in Residence Benjamin Northey and featuring acclaimed Australian pianist Stefan Cassomenos, this Town Hall performance promises an evening of Russian orchestral mastery.

Running time
1 hour and 32 minutes, including a 20-minute interval.

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