Friday, April 21, 2023

concert review: Seattle Symphony

Creating a soundtrack for Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin by stuffing together wads from various Shostakovich symphonies is such an obvious idea that it's been done at least three separate times. I heard one of these, played against a showing of the movie, from the San Francisco Symphony some years ago.

Now I'm in Seattle, listening to a different one. This one was concocted, and is conducted by, a German conductor named Frank Strobel. He's set it to a restored version of the movie. Potemkin has been edited and censored so much that most prints are incoherent hash. This one was more like a movie, with characters and a plot. Most refreshing.

Strobel is more creative with his Shostakovich than his predecessors. Like them, he sets the Odessa Steps sequence to the Winter Palace Massacre music from the Eleventh. But he makes the parts fit the sequence better. He edits the original slightly, then when he runs out of music from it he switches briefly to the climax of the slow movement from the Fifth, and then back to a repeat of the same music from the Eleventh. The closing scene, in which the Potemkin thinks it'll have to fire on the rest of the Russian navy, is to the staccato scherzo from the Eighth, and when they discover the other ships are also full of revolutionaries it switches to the climax from the finale of the Fourth and manages to work that into an ending.

This concert was fantastically easy to get to and I only wish I could do this at home. I'm staying within walking distance of one of the new stations on the light rail line. I hop in (the cars are more like SF Muni streetcars than BART cars) and 15 minutes later emerge directly in the lobby of the concert hall itself - fantastic! And far easier than the hour that the freeway signs were saying it would take to drive the 8 miles into town at afternoon rush hour + parking. My only complaint is that the concert hall is at about the primitive lemur stage of evolution regarding understanding the concept of signage.

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