Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Wed, July 10, 2024 6:30 pm


Grant Park Orchestra

Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor




Symphony No. 5
Allegro non troppo





Jay Pritzker Pavilion


Approx. 70 minutes


The appearance of Giancarlo Guerrero is generously underwritten by Lori Julian for the Julian Family Foundation.


Giancarlo Guerrero


Giancarlo Guerrero is a six-time GRAMMY® Award-winning conductor and Music Director of the Nashville Symphony and NFM Wrocław Philharmonic. Guerrero has been praised for his “charismatic conducting and attention to detail” (Seattle Times) in “viscerally powerful performances” (Boston Globe) that are “at once vigorous, passionate, and nuanced” (BachTrack).

Through commissions, recordings, and world premieres, Guerrero has championed the works of prominent American composers, presenting eleven world premieres and fifteen recordings of American music with the Nashville Symphony, including works by Michael Daugherty, Terry Riley and Jonathan Leshnoff.

As part of his commitment to fostering contemporary music, Guerrero, together with composer Aaron Jay Kernis, guided the creation of Nashville Symphony’s biannual Composer Lab & Workshop for young and emerging composers.

In the 2022-23 season, Guerrero returned to lead the Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, Deutches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Frankfurt Opern- und Museumsorchester and Queensland Symphony.

The 2021-22 season saw Guerrero’s critically acclaimed debuts with the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony and a return to conduct the Chicago Symphony in addition to performances in Nashville, Wrocław, Lisbon and Bilbao. Though live concerts in the 2020-21 season were largely canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Guerrero performed in virtual concerts with the Houston and Boston Symphonies. He also led the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic in a recording with violinist Bomsori Kim. Their Billboard chart-topping album Bomsori: Violin on Stage was released on Deutsche Grammophon in June 2021.

Other recent additions to Guerrero’s discography include the GRAMMY® nominated recording of John Adams: My Father Knew Charles Ives & Harmonielehre with the Nashville Symphony on Naxos, and a recording of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and the Academic Festival Overture released on NFM Wrocław’s own label.

Maestro Guerrero has also appeared with prominent North American orchestras, including those of Baltimore, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Montréal, Philadelphia, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, and the National Symphony Orchestra. Internationally he has worked in recent seasons with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, London Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Netherlands Philharmonic, NDR Radiophilharmonie, Brussels Philharmonic, Deutsches Radio Philharmonie and Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, as well as the Sydney Symphony in Australia. Guerrero was honored as the keynote speaker at the 2019 League of American Orchestras conference.

Guerrero previously held posts as the Principal Guest Conductor of both The Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency and the Gulbenkian Symphony in Lisbon, Music Director of the Eugene Symphony, and Associate Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Born in Nicaragua, Guerrero immigrated during his childhood to Costa Rica, where he joined the local youth symphony. He studied percussion and conducting at Baylor University in Texas and earned his master’s degree in conducting at Northwestern. Given his beginnings in civic youth orchestras, Guerrero is particularly engaged with conducting training orchestras and has worked with the Curtis School of Music, Colburn School in Los Angeles, National Youth Orchestra (NYO2) and Yale Philharmonia, as well as with the Nashville Symphony’s Accelerando program, which provides an intensive music education to promising young students from diverse ethnic backgrounds.


Joan Tower (b. 1938) 


Scored for: two flutes including piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four French horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, and strings

Performance time: 14 minutes

First Grant Park Orchestra performance

Joan Tower is widely considered one of the most important American composers working today. She has received numerous accolades for her six-decade career as a composer, performer, and educator, including the League of American Orchestra’s highest honor, the Gold Baton, in 2019. That same year, the New York Philharmonic commissioned Tower to compose a piece as part of the orchestra’s Project 19. Spearheaded by the orchestra’s president and CEO, Deborah Borda, the initiative set out to commission and premiere nineteen new works by women composers in honor of the 2020 centennial of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which enshrined women’s right to vote in the United States Constitution. To date, Project 19 is the single largest commission project for female composers in history. Tower dedicated 1920/2019 to Borda in recognition of her visionary leadership.

In composing 1920/2019, Tower took inspiration from the premise of the commission itself. “I began writing this music in 2019 as the #MeToo movement continued to grow,” she explains in her program note. “Victims of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment are ending their silence, finding strength by sharing their experiences and beliefs. These two years—1920 and 2019—were probably the two most historically significant years for the advancement of women in society.” While nothing in the work points to any specific events in the fight for women’s rights over the last century, the recurring five-note rising motif and other ascending figures amid blocks of heavy chords signify a constant struggle upwards. Tower contrasts the density of the opening theme with sparser sections that highlight different solo instruments, including those within the percussion section. Tower has long been fascinated by percussion—a fascination she credits to her upbringing in Bolivia. Her nanny would take her to patron saint festivals and drop her off by the bandstand, where the musicians would hand her maracas or castanets to play. Tower explains that 1920/2019 is “largely about rhythm and texture…set in a dramatic and organic narrative.” Regardless of any programmatic intent, it is difficult not to hear the final floating violin solo as optimistic about the future. 


Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) 

Symphony No.5 in D minor, op.47 (1937) 

Scored for: three flutes including piccolo, two oboes, three clarinets including bass clarinet, three bassoons including contrabassoon, four French horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, celesta, and strings

Performance time: 44 minutes

First Grant Park Orchestra performance: June 28, 1961; Milton Katims, conductor

That Dmitri Shostakovich managed to produce one of the greatest symphonies of the twentieth century while fearing for his career, or worse, his life, is a testament to the composer’s resilience. He had to navigate wild fluctuations in his reputation throughout his career. The premiere of his First Symphony at just nineteen years old had catapulted him to international fame and accorded him official favor. However, Joseph Stalin’s purges during the Great Terror of the mid-1930s put Shostakovich, as the most prominent Soviet composer, under increased scrutiny. In January 1936, Stalin attended a new production of Shostakovich’s acclaimed 1934 opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. A few days later, an anonymous article in the Pravda, rumored to be at the behest of Stalin himself, condemned the opera as “Un-Soviet, unwholesome, cheap, eccentric, tuneless and leftist.” Many of Shostakovich’s fellow composers joined in the public denouncement to save their own skins. 

The leveling of these criticisms amid the prevailing atmosphere of fear shook Shostakovich to his core. Several of his family members and artistic associates had been arrested during the purges. Some sources even claim he contemplated suicide. What sustained him was the arrival of his first child in May and ongoing work on his Fourth Symphony. In November, however, Shostakovich bowed to official pressure to withdraw his symphony shortly before the premiere, given its dissonant character and often manic energy. (It would not see performance until 1961.) He went back to the drawing board the following spring to work on a new symphony—one that would pass the Kremlin’s litmus test. When his Fifth Symphony premiered in November 1937, it received a thirty-minute ovation. The audience had wept openly during the sumptuous Largo movement in a mass exhalation of suppressed grief at the height of the Great Terror. The overwhelming success of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony marked his official “rehabilitation” and reaffirmed his status as a Soviet cultural hero. But he would never take that designation for granted again.

From 1936 onward, Shostakovich learned how to bend his aesthetics to adhere to the vague yet imperative stylistic demands of the Party while maintaining his creative integrity. This time also marks the emergence of the “two Shostakoviches,” one private and one public. He began to direct his public style toward the lyrical and heroic to appease the Kremlin while also incorporating hidden meanings that could subvert superficial interpretations. A master of satire, he learned how to blur the line between authenticity and irony so that he could remain above suspicion, largely leaving the subtext to the imagination of the listener. 

Adding to this ambiguity is Shostakovich’s purported statements regarding his Fifth Symphony. He publicly endorsed an unnamed journalist’s assessment of the symphony as “a Soviet artist’s practical creative reply to just criticism.” (The source of this quote has not been confirmed; Shostakovich may have put it forth himself to assert his successful rehabilitation.) However, in his potentially specious memoirs, Testimony, published posthumously in 1979, Shostakovich said of the finale, “The rejoicing is forced, created under threat…It’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, ‘Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing.’” Cunningly, a musical reference in the finale supports both the private and the public reading. Shostakovich quotes the accompanimental figure and opening vocal motif of the song “Rebirth” from his Four Romances of Poems by Pushkin, written in December 1936. While the title is a nod to Shostakovich’s own renewal, the text of the song is about the permanence of art despite the willful interference of a “barbarian.” Regardless of whether listeners picked up on this reference or others within the epic score, the triumphant tone of the brassy, major-key finale was enough to convince Soviet critics that it was acceptable to express tragic emotions, as in the Largo, so long as the ending was sufficiently upbeat.


Program Notes by Katherine Buzard