This Shostakovich concert – performed by the Mahler Youth Orchestra conducted by Teodor Currentzis – was about as traditional as the Spiritual Overture has been this year, with the exception of Handel’s “Messiah”, conducted by Jordi Savall but with smaller and clearer forces than usual. and at the Kollegienkirche with less than 400 seats.
In the spotlight during the opening night of the Spiritual Opening, the “Babi Yar” – nicknamed for its setting to music of a poem on the memory of the massacre of more than 30,000 Jews at the site in Ukraine – might have seemed like a response to the war there, where Russian missiles hit the area around the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center at the start of the invasion. But, in a strangely prescient move, it was scheduled last year.
Beyond that, the program has been spearheaded by Currentzis, who, along with his ensemble MusicAeterna, has come under scrutiny for his ties to the Russian state. (On Tuesday he announced the formation of a new band, Utopia, with Western backing; tellingly, the press release called him Greek instead of Greek-Russian, because he had identified himself, and made no mention of what this development means for the future of MusicAeterna.)
During the “Babi Yar” concert, however, the audience seemed to be more focused on the performance itself, given the ecstatic response to the orchestra and Currentzis – not to mention the members of MusicAeterna Choir and Bachchor Salzburg. The soloist, Dmitry Ulyanov, had a sonorous, characterful bass that was reason enough to forgive Currentzis’ indulgences, such as making the instrumentalists stand at an emotional climax (a move that doesn’t trust the music ), or interminably raise their arms to keep the room quiet at the end of the symphony (a gesture that does not trust the listeners).
Soon after, the evening took a more adventurous turn at the Kollegienkirche, where members of Cantando Admont and Klangforum Wien presented two poignant and haunting works by Luigi Nono, one inspired by the horrors of Poland during the World War II (“Ricorda cosa ti hanno fatti à Auschwitz”), the other by oppressive Soviet domination (“Quando stanno morendo. Diario polacco n. 2”).