Like most of his works in this genre, Symphony No. 13 by Dmitri Shostakovich was created as a certain musical monument, preserving the memory of those whom nobody wanted to remember. The Symphony was composed to poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, younger by a generation: “Babi Yar”, “Humour”, “In the Shop”, “Fears”, “Career”. Most of the poems (“Fears” have been written especially for Shostakovich, as a supplement to the selection of poems for Symphony No. 13) tackle the various aspects of 1960s everyday life in the USSR. The poetic language is simple, almost prosaic. Yevtushenko does not avoid irony, grotesque, sometimes satire. These features really appealed to Shostakovich, whose music was often also ironic and grotesque. Both artists, putting up metaphorical masks, talked about serious things. A seemingly prosaic image – “In the shop” – is a tribute to the everyday courage of Soviet women, who find the strength to live every morning, regardless of the difficulties of wartime and subsequent Soviet realties marked by struggle: no longer for freedom, but for normality. This is the central topic in Symphony No. 13. The poet himself later recalled: “Shostakovich interpreted my poems in his own way, giving them depth, which they previously lacked”.
The subtitle of the work – “Babi Yar” – comes from the first linking point, a musical version of the poem of the same title. 75 years ago, on September 29-30, 1941, a gorge near Kiev named Babi Yar witnessed the first act of the Holocaust. In two days, the Nazis and their collaborators murdered almost all the Jews of Kiev district: a total of 33,771 people. The victims were herded into a trap with no exit, where they were shot and buried under the walls of the gorge. It was a gruesome “rehearsal” before the subsequent massacres carried out in a similar manner in Majdanek and Odessa. Babi Yar was later used numerously in the same insane and inhumane way to eliminate the Gypsies, patients of psychiatric hospitals, Communists, prisoners of war... According to some estimates, as many as 200,000 people lost their lives in the gorge. Some, however, survived to talk about the crime. After war criminals were caught, a curtain of silence fell over Babi Jar. On the 20th anniversary of the massacre, Yevtushenko visited this place. It was surrounded only by the memories of the people, not a single monument was present (the first one, a modest obelisk, was placed there several years later). Moved by this sight, the poet wrote a poem, which is both a tribute to the victims, and a protest against the anti-Semitism that did not come to an end with the defeat of Nazi troops. Shostakovich, for whom this issue has always been important, immediately took on the topic – one very uncomfortable for the Soviet authorities. Unable to directly prohibit the publication of the poem, the censors found a way to change its meaning: Yevtushenko focused on the events of September 1941, and therefore did not mention the later victims, of nationality other than the Jewish. Under the pressure of censorship, the poet altered some lines, and reworked the whole poem – the final version was twice as long as the first version. This created a challenge for Shostakovich, who had already finished composing music to the original poem. “Babi Yar” is performed in the original version, with the eight key verses in one of two varieties: the original or amended under the pressure of censorship.
Shostakovich's work is a vocal symphony and as such it continues Mahler tradition, also in how it incorporates quotes from popular music for grotesque and ironic effect. It is also a piece that should be considered thoroughly Russian, hence the vocal parts of both solo-bass and the unisono bass choir derive directly from the Mussorgsky tradition. The recitative melody is focused on the text expression, making each and every syllable sound clear. The soloist in the Wrocław performance will be Mikhail Petrenko, an outstanding Russian bass, known for his work on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with a repertoire of leading roles in operas by Gounod (Faust), Verdi (Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos) or in Rachmaninov’s The Bells cantata. The soloist will be accompanied by the Male Choir of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic and NFM Wrocław Philharmonic, conducted by Andrey Boreyko, a Russian conductor of Polish descent, known for his outstanding creations, popularizing the music of both Polish and Russian nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Complementing the program of the evening is Zan Tontemiquico, a composition by Mikołaj Górecki, son and pupil of Henryk Mikołaj Gorecki. Mikołaj Górecki is a remarkable artist who found his own way and developed a distinctive own musical language. The title of the presented work comes from the poem written in Nahuatl language, used by the Pre-Columbian inhabitants of today's Mexico. The lyrical reflection contained in the poem is surprisingly reminiscent of philosophical and poetic concepts of European authors, talking about the unity of all humanity: “We barely just woke up, already going to sleep. That is not true, not true, that we came to live on earth”.