Author: Nicole Restle
ca. 2 minutes

Herbert von Karajan and Dmitri Shostakovitch | Picture: Reinhard Friedrich

With his performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, Kirill Petrenko follows a Berliner Philharmoniker tradition. Hardly any other of the composer’s works has been so much in the orchestra’s focus over the decades. In particular, a Moscow concert conducted by Herbert von Karajan with Shostakovich in the audience has become legendary.

The Berliner Philharmoniker have a special relationship with Shostakovich’s Tenth. Following Bruno Walter’s performance of the composer’s First Symphony in 1928, there was initially a long break from Shostakovich, but after the end of the war, the Fifth, the Seventh and the Ninth were added to the programme in quick succession, conducted by interim chief conductor Sergiu Celibidache.

In 1959, Herbert von Karajan discovered the Tenth: the only Shostakovich symphony he ever conducted. But he did so extremely often – no less than 17 times. The symphony truly became a work reserved solely for the chief conductor: until the end of his tenure, no one other than Karajan conducted it with the Philharmoniker. The most memorable performances occurred in 1969 at politically highly charged guest performances in Moscow and Leningrad. In the Soviet capital, trembling with excitement, the composer was among the audience, and is said to have smiled during the final cheers, a rare sight, while choruses chanted his and the conductor's name: “The formerly ostracised composer experienced perhaps the greatest triumph of his career,” said Karajan’s press spokesman Peter Csobádi.

Even after Karajan’s retirement in 1989, the symphony remained a favourite of the orchestra – only Shostakovich’s Fifth has been performed more often by the Philharmoniker. Conductors of the work with the orchestra include Sir Georg Solti (1992), Paavo Järvi (2000), Semyon Bychkov (2007) and Seiji Ozawa on two occasions: in 2005 in Berlin, and in 2008 at the concert in Salzburg commemorating the 100th anniversary of Karajan’s birth. In the same year, a chief conductor once again presented the work: Sir Simon Rattle conducted the Tenth for the opening of the 2008/09 season and subsequently in London and Dublin. The most recent performance was conducted in 2016 by Mariss Jansons, who witnessed the Philharmoniker’s Moscow guest performance as a young musician.