Have you ever cried like a baby, sitting in the second row at the symphony? Did you ever feel like a total idiot, hiding your tears from the normal people to your right and left? I did, I would not lie. I am not proud of it, but some music does it to me.
Recently, the San Antonio Symphony performed Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 and to my dismay, I cried like a baby for the entire Symphony. I still am trying to figure out why. Yes, it is beautiful music and the San Antonio Symphony did a great job, but I have heard this Symphony at least 100 times before, living in Russia where my dad played violin in the Moscow Philharmonic, where I grew up as a backstage kid.
What it is about Shostakovich that gets under my skin?
Music has the transcendental power to communicate without words. We might feel the same sensation while listening to one piece, as we would feel reading a great novel, poem, or play, or experience the same emotions in real life. Music makes us feel tension, joy, happiness, love and drama. It tells us a story, or paints a picture, a picture in real time.
Maybe Shostakovich’s 10th has this crying effect on me because his music is semantically familiar and very much associated for me with Stalin’s time? The Symphony premiered in 1953, the year of Stalin’s death. That was the end of the empire of fear, where anybody could disappear in the middle of the night, proclaimed to be an enemy of the state, never to surface again.
Maybe Shostakovich’s 10th has this crying effect on me because it is one of the most dramatic and beautiful, complex pieces of music ever written, which equally satisfies intellectually and emotionally?
Or maybe Shostakovich’s 10th makes me cry like a baby, because it makes me miss my youth? The time when I studied music, going to concerts every day, engaged in hot bohemian debates, my first love, my first piano concerto, my son, the arrival of the first snow and fresh smells of the early spring, “Spring Waters” by Rachmaninoff… remember?
I emigrated to the US more the 20 years ago, and never looked back. And who would think that it would be Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 that crawls under my skin and dives into my soul, without any kind of permission, finds that little place which I forgot even existed, and makes me cry like a baby, in front of many perfectly normal concertgoers.
That is what true piece of art can do… who knows why.