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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: This Year Marks Centennial of Dimitri Shostakovich, a Favorite Composer of Mine; I Love Those 15 String Quartets, His Stirring 13th Symphony (‘Babi Yar’)

Posted by kinchendavid on August 10, 2006

By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network

Dimitri Shostakovich

Highland Park, IL  – I celebrated the centennial of the birth of the great Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) by attending a July 17, 2006 concert at the Ravinia Festival Music Center, where the renowned Emerson String Quartet performed his 13th, 14th and 15th String Quartets.

Classical music has always been a major part of my life and this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I’m listening to Shostokovich as I write this.

The Emerson is one of the world’s premier chamber music ensembles and the century-old Ravinia in Highland Park is the gem of summertime music venues in the greater Chicago area. Although I grew up not far from Chicago and worked and lived there the first five or six years out of college in the 1960s, this was – oddly enough – the first time I’d ever been to Ravinia. My sister Natasha Yuhas and I took the Metra train on one of the hottest days of the year for the concert, which was held in the air conditioned Martin Theatre on the festival grounds. She provided the tickets and I paid for our transportation.

The Emerson String Quartet

The train stops right at the festival grounds, prompting the comment by the great English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham – famous for his humorous comments — that Ravinia is the only railroad station in the world with its own symphony orchestra. Ravinia has been the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since the mid 1930s. Beecham (1879-1961) was a guest conductor of the CSO when he made his comment. Train sounds become a part of every concert since the festival entrance is so close to the train tracks.

Actually, there’s no station today, just a platform that isn’t even sheltered from the elements. More about that later. The performance was everything I expected and more. I’d never seen a string quartet where the two violinists and the violist stood while performing – with only the Cellist sitting – but the acrobatics and gyrations necessary to perform these quartets make this unusual posture completely understandable. The Emerson String Quartet was formed 30 years ago and consists of Eugene Drucker (Violin); Philip Setzer (Violin); Lawrence Dutton (Viola); David Finckel (Cello).

The Ravinia Arch

Just before the end of the 15th Quartet, I noticed several people leaving the theatre. They were rushing to meet the 9:38 p.m. train to Chicago. When we left the festival grounds, we discovered that the next train to Chicago wouldn’t arrive until about 11 p.m. The group waiting for the train included a number of high-spirited young music fans. I called Liz in Hinton on my cell phone and was informed by this dedicated Weather Channel watcher that a storm was headed in the direction of Chicago. Sure enough! About 10:30 p.m. the rains came, and few of us were carrying umbrellas. We would have welcomed the sheltered platforms that I had noticed in old-time Ravinia pictures. The young people enjoyed the end of the heat wave, splashing around in the water just outside the Ravinia arch. Finally the train came and we squished our way aboard. Music should be joyful noise and we had plenty of that on the train back to Chicago.

For more on Dimitri Shostokovich, his life and conflicts with Stalin and his marvelous music, check out the excellent Wikipedia entry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitri_Shostakovich

Ravinia Web site: http://www.ravinia.org

Emerson String Quartet: http://www.emersonquartet.com

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One Response to “PARALLEL UNIVERSE: This Year Marks Centennial of Dimitri Shostakovich, a Favorite Composer of Mine; I Love Those 15 String Quartets, His Stirring 13th Symphony (‘Babi Yar’)”

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