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Two Fifths

DARWIN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA is set to end the year on a high note with a performance of two mighty orchestral works, bringing their 2021 season to a triumphant close.

Presenting two big fives – Ludwig van Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto and Dmitri Shostakovich’s brooding Symphony No. 5 – the concert features Chinese-Australian star pianist Shuan Hern Lee performing a stirring rendition of Beethoven’s famous concerto.

More commonly known as the Emperor concerto, Piano Concerto No. 5 is a beloved classical favourite that some may recognise from films such as The King’s Speech.

For DSO’s Artistic Director and Chief Conductor Jonathon Tooby, hearing the slow movement of the concerto for the first time in another film – the coming-of-age classic, Dead Poets Society – is what made him fall in love with Beethoven.

“I must have been 17 at the time. I remember this one scene in [the film] … and in that scene the background music is the slow movement of this piano concerto. I couldn’t think about anything else for the rest of the film. I was just so completely bewitched by it.

“So straight after I went to the first CD shop and I said, ‘I want the soundtrack to Dead Poets Society,’ thinking it was some new piece of music that had been written for the film – and it was Beethoven. And that totally was the day my love of that music was born. It completely stole my heart.”

Watching the talented musicians from DSO perform this moving work on stage, we reckon it’s sure to steal ours, too.

The second half of the concert presents an equally stirring work that emerged from a very different historical moment – Shostakovich’s monumental fifth symphony. Written in 1937, at the height of Josef Stalin’s reign, Symphony No. 5 is a complex, ambiguous work that walks a fine line between conforming to the demands of the Soviet regime and being an expression of artistic freedom and dissent.

At the time of its writing, Shostakovich’s previous work had been condemned by Stalin due its daring, expressionist nature. Symphony No. 5 was his attempt to regain official approval, and the work is subtitled ‘a Soviet artist’s response to just criticism.’ Whether it truly was such a response or whether the moments of exuberance in the symphony are parodying Stalin is a matter of much debate. What is undeniable, however, is the work’s brilliance and intensity.

“Everything’s always on a knife’s edge with Shostakovich… All the emotions we feel, whether they be anger or love or hurt. He gets you about as close as you can get before you’re just crushed by it.”

Written under radically different conditions, these two powerful works together offer an unmissable night of music exploring different facets of the human experience.

Two Fifths
SAT 27 NOV | 7.30PM
COST $60 | $50 CONC | $30 U30

Header & thumbnail: Tim Nicol Photography

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