S.The place and time for the total of seven concerts give food for thought: only shortly after the eightieth anniversary of the German attack on the Soviet Union, the International Shostakovich Days Gohrisch took place in the Festspielhaus Hellerau, where the Soviet Army resided until 1992 and where police units drilled before 1945 who certainly had no basic liberal order to defend. A productive contrast to the art that could now be experienced here.
The move to the outskirts of Dresden caused the development of the pandemic, which is still difficult to predict. Until recently, reliable planning was not possible in idyllic Gohrisch in Saxon Switzerland. There was no reference to the creative biographical location where Shostakovich had composed his eighth string quartet in 1960.
The Sächsische Staatskapelle as a permanent cooperation partner contributes a special concert every year, this time in the Dresden Kulturpalast under the accomplished direction of Vladimir Jurowski and with the congenial Leonidas Kavakos as soloist in the first violin concerto, which had to be kept in a drawer for a long time due to ideological fears. Back then, in 1948, at the height of the Stalinist formalism tribunals, the piece did not sound “positive” enough, and you can still feel a sense of Weltschmerz in it that is resignedly directed inwards. It is precisely this drama of inner despair that can be found – sometimes downright epic – in many of Shostakovich’s string quartets. He wrote fifteen, so you might think that in the twelfth year of the Shostakovich Days they’d all been played here at least once. But on this weekend in June alone, there were five quartets at this music festival for the first time.
In addition, however, what is much more astonishing, numerous German premieres and even world premieres could be seen in the program. This is thanks to the meticulous work at the Moscow Shostakovich Institute, where the musicologist Olga Digonskaja repeatedly unearths smaller and larger treasures that have hitherto been unheard of. These included finger exercises from student days as well as romances and songs created during the war that Shostakovich had arranged for violin, cello and voice based on models by Bizet, Rossini, Mussorgsky and by Soviet composers. Entertaining encouragement and propagandistic battle songs, which have now been heard for the first time in Germany and were mostly sung down from military trucks by so-called concert brigades in order to strengthen Leningrad’s fighters at the front. In addition to such popular music, Shostakovich was almost constantly on the lookout for new operatic material and found what he was looking for in the Italian Gaetano Braga, whose serenade “The Angel Song” picks up on a theme similar to Anton Chekhov’s novella “The Black Monk”. Sketches for an opera of the same name are based on this, but Shostakovich did not pursue it any further. The version for two voices, violin and piano showed how far these sketches have come. There is definitely dramatic potential in them.