CLASSICAL MUSIC / KENNETH HERMAN : Shostakovich Symphony a Treasure for Conductor

The San Diego Symphony’s fascination with Russian musical culture continues unabated. This week Leonid Grin will lead the local orchestra in Dimitri Shostakovich’s monumental Tenth Symphony, the first work the composer produced after the demise of Stalin.

“It’s a key piece for Soviet music,” explained Grin. “Stalin and Shostakovich were not exactly friends, and Stalin’s death gave him a chance to speak out after a period of terror.”

Unlike Shostakovich, who remained in his native country in spite of periods of harsh censure, Grin made his protest against the Soviet system by defecting in 1981. He left a promising conducting career--at the tender age of 28 he was appointed assistant conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic--for an uncertain future in the West.

Although Grin was just a toddler in 1953, when Shostakovich wrote his Tenth Symphony, Grin did know and work with the composer on a later opus.


“I knew Shostakovich for a short period of time while he was writing the 14th Symphony. In fact, I helped him look over the manuscripts prior to the first performance (in 1969). As a person, Shostakovich was somewhat isolated. He preferred to keep to a small circle of friends,” Grin noted.

When Grin conducted Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony with the Houston Symphony in October, 1988, Houston Post music critic Carl Cunningham could not find enough accolades for the conductor’s interpretation.

“I treasure this music,” said Grin, “it’s really strong. The Tenth Symphony, along with his Eighth and Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, are the landmarks of 20th-Century Russian music.”

And after a successful performance with the Berlin Radio Symphony this past fall, Grin was invited back to make a pair of recordings--both devoted to the music of Shostakovich.


While the 40-year-old conductor is now happily settled outside Philadelphia, for the most part his conducting career in the West has been restricted to guest conducting. Although he was music director of Norway’s Trondheim Symphony from 1984-86 and currently is principal guest conductor of the Tampere (Finland) Philharmonic, he has no regular ties with an American orchestra.

Does he ever think that it would have been wiser to remain in Moscow where his career was launched with such promise?

“No, definitely not,” he said, without pausing to consider his choice of words. “Here I have all the opportunities to look inside myself and let my talent grow up. In the Soviet Union, musicians are led around by the hand.”

While Grin’s Thursday night performance at Symphony Hall marks his debut with the San Diego Symphony, it will not exactly be his local debut. Last summer, he conducted a concert at the ill-fated Batiquitos Festival in Carlsbad. Grin was supposed to conduct the festival’s professional-caliber orchestra in an outdoor concert with Gary Graffman as soloist in Ravel’s “Concerto for the Left Hand.” By the time Grin arrived in North County, the bollixed festival had been reduced to a single ragtag ensemble of student players and a couple of teachers.

“I never imagined such a situation,” said Grin diplomatically. “I met with Gary Graffman, and we decided we would stay for the performance for sake of the students. Music is religion for me. I’m willing to sacrifice many things for music.”

Yet another Russian. Due to a neck injury, violinist Salvatore Accardo has canceled his appearance this week with the San Diego Symphony. According to symphony spokesman Les Smith, the Italian violinist will be replaced by the young Russian performer Alexander Markov. Along with his family, Markov emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1976. He won a gold medal in the 1982 Paganini International Violin Competition. Appropriately, he will perform the scheduled Paganini First Violin Concerto with the orchestra this week.

Consolation prize. The La Jolla Chamber Music Society has some disappointing news for holders of tickets to the canceled Jan. 24 Symphony Hall concert that would have paired cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax. Since the celebrated duo cannot fit San Diego into their schedule for the remainder of the current season, the La Jolla society is offering a concert by the Beaux Arts Trio on April 9 at Symphony Hall to all Ax-Ma ticket holders.

The Beaux Arts Trio--pianist Menahem Pressler, violinist Isodore Cohen and cellist Peter Wiley--will perform piano trios by Mozart, Mendelssohn and Ravel. Additional tickets are available for this Beaux Arts concert.


According to a society spokesman, Ma and Ax have been contracted for next season’s Celebrity Series, but eager fans who want to hear them locally in 1990 will have to subscribe to next year’s series.

New Music Downtown. Installation Gallery director Dan Wasil hopes to gain a reputation in contemporary music equal to his gallery’s stature in the area of contemporary visual arts. This fall, Installation inaugurated its new music series, but Wasil had to wait for further funding to continue his offerings of musical avant-garde.

Friday night the gallery will sponsor a program of live electronics by John Bischoff and Tim Perkis. On Saturday, a montage of film, music and audio tape by Barbara Golden and Mamoru Fujieda will grace the Installation chamber on E Street.

Free Opera at Noon. While the price of choice opera tickets continues to rise, San Diego Opera apparently has no qualms about giving away free samples of its pricey product. At noon this Thursday in front of Civic Theatre, two members of the current “Don Pasquale” production, bass-baritone Francois Loup and tenor Mark Dubois, will perform highlights of the Donizetti opera buffa . They will be joined by soprano Carolyn Whyte and accompanied by opera chorus master Martin Wright.