With two debuts in one evening, this concert from October 2010 has the up-and-coming generation of musicians at its heart. On her many CDs, the violinist Baiba Skride has shown herself to be both an impulsive and subtle artist. And Andris Nelsons had already been described by the Berlin Tagesspiegel as “the biggest and brightest hope in the conducting firmament” – an assessment that the then principal conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra confirmed with much admired debuts at the Wiener Staatsoper, the Met in New York and the Bayreuth Festival.
Grief and despair as expressed in the musical language of the 20th century – this is the central theme of both of this evening’s works. In the one case, a personal tragedy; in the case of the other, the global catastrophe that was the Second World War. The concert opens with Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, with the inscription “To the Memory of an Angel”. This inscription refers to Alma Mahler’s daughter Manon Gropius, who died aged only 18 in the spring of 1935. “I do not attempt […] to find the words where language fails by letter,” Berg wrote to Alma Mahler, “but yet: one day […] may you hear in the Violin Concerto that which I feel today and cannot express”. This shock did not stop Berg from adhering to his own demands in terms of compositional technique, creating history’s first twelve-tone violin concerto.
Also in Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony, which forms the second half of the concert, a delicately balanced texture is combined with overwhelming expressive power. This 1943 work reflects the brutality of war as well as the grief of the people. Even the vacuous pomp of military marches is taken up in this multi-form panorama and exposed through knife-sharp parody.