Pacifica Shostakovich

When I’m in New York, good music is only a short subway ride away. But now that I’m back home in Berkeley, I have to range somewhat farther afield. Last night, my husband and I drove for well over an hour on post-rain, pre-rain, rush-hour highways to get down to Music@Menlo’s mid-winter concert, featuring the Pacifica Quartet.

And of course it was worth it. The Pacifica Quartet is always worth it, in my experience, and in this case they were playing a delicious program in which Shostakovich’s Third Quartet was sandwiched between Beethoven’s Opus 18, No. 6 and Ravel’s sole quartet, the F Major. These four outstanding players—great individually, but even better together—do Beethoven beautifully, as I’ve learned over the years; and getting to hear them do the Ravel, which I haven’t heard live since about 2006, was also a notable pleasure. But the standout of the evening, for me and I think for the rest of the audience, was Shostakovich’s Third. First performed in 1946, this five-movement piece speaks not only to all the difficulties of Shostakovich’s era (the Second World War, Stalin’s persecutions, the deaths of close friends) but also to the difficulties of ours. Not a moment in it is wasted on trivialities or anodyne prettiness; not a moment is without deep, persuasive emotion. This quartet seems to say, Yes, things are terrible now, and they will continue to be terrible, but perhaps we will survive for a while yet, if we manage to retain our sense of being human, collectively and individually. 

From the long, attentive silence that greeted the end of this powerful piece, I presume the rest of the audience was getting the same message I was. And it would not at all surprise me if Shostakovich’s quartets, which address so clearly the troubles of our time, were to experience something of a resurgence in the next four years.

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