The Paper Bag Was On My Knee – Part II

DickGenerally speaking, the symphonic output of Shostakovich has all the charms of being waterboarded by a cackling Dick Cheney, and the composer’s final symphony is certainly no exception. Filled to capacity with haunting quotations, harsh angularity, and harrowing emotions, Symphony No. 15 by Dmitri Shostakovich is probably music best avoided if suicidal tendencies are at all an issue for you. This composition of uneasy listening was first played 41 years ago in Moscow, but the Oregon Symphony’s first performance wasn’t until Saturday night in downtown Portland. The work opens surprisingly with the bright clarity of a chiming glockenspiel and a deceivingly pleasant flute melody, but the playful façade is quickly destroyed by a stabbing onslaught of evil strings and an eruption of absolute percussive chaos. It’s freaking brilliant music. And to hear it played live by a technical army of 76 professional musicians? Shiiit. And as if the remarkable amount of solo time the composer offers to string goddesses Sarah and Nancy weren’t parting gift enough, the 65-year-old Shostakovich also left us with some insanely sick writing for symphonic percussionists. I’ll tell you what: Yoko & the Boys blew it up at the Schnitz, ripping through an arsenal of toys that included a bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, castanets, a whip (!), the xylophone, an entire vibraphone kit, four timpani, and a most ghostly celesta. Forty minutes of utter dread never sounded better. [whew!] Seriously.

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