Amid the Met hoopla last Monday we New Yorkers overlooked the hundredth birthday of Shostakovich. Many ironically happy returns, Dmitri Dmitrievich! I am reading the second edition of Elizabeth Wilson's classic oral history Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. Enthusiasts who own the first edition are going to have to cough up money for the update, since it is richly stocked with fresh interviews and late-breaking information. The most striking thing I've found so far is a summary of Alexander Benditsky's dissertation on the Fifth Symphony, which reveals that the work is infested with references to Bizet's Carmen. It's long been noticed that the second theme of the first movement alludes to "Amour, amour" in the "Habanera"; Benditsky lists numerous other resemblances, notably one between the martial motive at the beginning of the Finale and Bizet's "Prends garde à toi" ("Beware, beware"). Why on earth would Shostakovich be making references to Carmen? As it turns out, Elena Konstantinovskya, who had an affair with the composer in 1934-35, and who was briefly imprisoned during the Terror, went to Spain and married the Soviet photographer and filmmaker Roman Karmen (a train of events that figures in William Vollmann's novel Europe Central). Karmen! All this time interpreters have been trying to figure out what the Fifth reveals about Shostakovich's attitude toward Stalin; how ironic that he might really have been thinking about his love life.
Two major Shostakovich series are slated for the fall. Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra will complete their two-season survey of the fifteen symphonies at Lincoln Center — Nos. 11 and 6 on Oct. 23, Nos. 12 and 14 on Oct. 24, and Nos. 8 and 13 on Oct. 29. The orchestra will play the same programs in the gorgeously appointed Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on Oct. 20-22, and various Shostakovich symphonies earlier in the month at the new Orange County Performing Arts Center. Carnegie Hall, meanwhile, is enlisting Mariinsky Theater singers to survey Shostakovich's little-heard but hugely significant output of songs on Nov. 10-12. There will be a Shostakovich Discovery Day during the day on Nov. 11, with additional performances, lectures by Laurel Fay and Marina Frolova-Walker, and a film screening.