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The search for identity in musical works that Kirill Petrenko has made the focus of his 2022/23 season programme reveals itself in very different ways. There is the desire to express a national or ethnic affiliation: Jean Sibelius composed Finlandia, the unofficial national anthem of Finland, long occupied by Russia. Zoltán Kodály travelled through his native Hungary and the neighbouring regions to collect folk songs – this inspiration was reflected in, among other works, his Dances of Galánta.

Tchaikovsky, on the other hand, not only struggled with self-doubt, but above all, as a homosexual, he searched for his place in an environment that made same-sex love a punishable offence. This identity struggle seems to be directly depicted in his Pathétique. Kirill Petrenko conducts the symphony here, in which lamentation turns into despair and finally resignation.

A humanistic worldview shaped the work of both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. “Mortals will become like the gods”, is how self-confidently man emancipates himself from religious rule in The Magic Flute. Beethoven also longed for freedom for all people. The fact that Napoleon bitterly disappointed him as a reformer, however, led him to unceremoniously erase the dedication of his Eroica.

In the 20th century, we find two examples of identity localisation in Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich. As a Jew, Mahler faced hostility not only in anti-Semitic Vienna. Each of his symphonies is also a reflection of the individual’s confrontation with an overwhelmingly turbulent world. Shostakovich, on the other hand, composed in a courageous balancing act between national hero and enemy of the people in the shadow of Stalinist censorship.

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