Prelude and Scherzo for string orchestra
Phaedra, Dramatic Cantata for mezzo-soprano and small orchestra
Symphony No. 14 in G major for soprano, bass and chamber orchestra
Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich – what an enigmatic friendship it was that tied these two composers together! The sophisticated Briton who, despite his more or less freely expressed homosexuality, always felt like a social outcast and the reserved Russian who had been intimidated by the repression imposed on him by the Soviet regime. Geographic, social and artistic worlds lay between Britten and Shostakovich – not to mention the most varied life experiences.Gay but wanting to fit in, a recipient of state prizes but having to fear for his life at all times: was it the fractures in their biographies that connected Britten and Shostakovich to one another?
Or a common musical denominator that – despite the most varied artistic mouldings – was present in their commitment to a compository tradition that never lost sight of the listener and valued the aesthetic category of expression more highly than an allegedly progressive style of writing? Britten and Shostakovich’s artistic points of contact were as numbered as their personal encounters. Yet Shostakovich dedicated his 14th Symphony, which in this concert will see Teodor Currentzis conducting the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, to his English colleague: a harrowing confrontation with death which finds an exciting and equally gripping counterpart in Britten’s cantata Phaedra.