The War Symphonies: Shostakovich Against Stalin

A portrait of Dmitri Shostakovich by Larry Weinstein

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Netherland Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

Kirov Orchestra

Valery Gergiev — Conductor

Program notes

Join Shostakovich as he struggles against Stalin's tyranny and oppression in this stirring, award-winning documentary by Larry Weinstein. Shot on location in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the film brings together interviews, archival footage, and extracts from concerts to paint a vivid picture of the composer's life and career.

Shostakovich described his Symphonies No. 4 to 9 as his "tombstones for the victims of Stalin." He wrote these musical masterpieces during a period when he and his compatriots were sharing in a struggle to survive under a totalitarian regime, a time of mass killings and incredible suppression. Like many artists in his position, the composer used his music as a weapon, and Larry Weinstein's film is a testimony to its enduring power. Great performances of the symphonies led by Valery Gergiev are interwoven with interviews of the conductor, rare archival film material, and personal recollections from those close Shostakovich. Don't miss this winner of the International Emmy for Best Arts Documentary, Le Nombre d'Or Special Jury Prize, American Historical Association Best Film Award, Golden Prague Grand Prize for Excellence in Music Programming, and the Gemini Award for Best Performing Arts Program!

I wasn’t prepared for the reaction to the film, for when it screened at the Golden Prague Festival, attended by many who had lived in the former Soviet states, the response was overwhelming. Individuals that I had never met were sobbing, telling me that this was their story. As a filmmaker, one tries to feel the power of one’s own work in order to convey that feeling to others, but these people felt its apparent power far more than I (a middle-class Canadian) ever could. The film went on to become the subject of massive articles, of debate, of political rhetoric. Even the featured conductor of the film, whose idea it was to make the film in the first place, feared that it had become “too political”. But the power of the subject, of the grim history that it depicts and, above all, such commentary. What an honor to have been part of this process. What an honor to be even remotely connected to Dmitri Shostakovich. – Larry Weinstein

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