This performance of Shostakovich’s First Symphony is notable for the youthfulness of just about everyone connected with it. Shostakovich was 18 years old and a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory when he wrote it in 1925. The members of The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra of Venezuela are all between the ages of 14 and 20. The oldest person in the entire enterprise is the conductor, Joshua Dos Santos, who was all of 26 when this video was made.
Even I was a youngster when I was introduced to this piece. I was 19 and in the hospital, having broken a leg while learning to ski. As it turned out, this mishap had a fortunate consequence: my friend George Banks brought me a recording of this symphony to keep me company, and from the very first, I was enthralled with it.
My appreciation has only grown over the years. What an achievement for a student composer! What assurance, maturity, and overall mastery! In this symphony, Shostakovich takes us on a journey from satiric wit to the very depths of human emotion. We embark as detached observers, but conclude as fellow sojourners. Gerard McBurney describes this progression beautifully in his notes to this symphony on the Boosey and Hawkes website:
The teenage Shostakovich made his international reputation with his First Symphony, written while he was still a student between 1923 and 1925; few composers in history can have pulled off such an auspicious opening to their career. Astonishing brilliance and quicksilver fluency of orchestral writing are matched by dark undertones of mockery and tragic foreboding. This work is at once unique in the composer’s output and yet filled with premonitions of all to come.
At first hearing, this symphony’s four movements have an almost playfully neo-classical surface, but the music is constantly unpredictable, full of strange twists and turns, sometimes hilariously funny, sometimes startlingly moving and personal. From its sinewy sinister opening for solo trumpet and bassoon, through its helter-skelter piano-dominated scherzo and sombrely thoughtful slow movement right to its strident blast of trumpets and trombones at the very end, this piece – composed eighty years ago – still keeps audiences amazed and on the edge of their seats.
This performance took place in Simón Bolívar Hall in Caracas, Venezuela on January 14, 2012.