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Shostakovich Festival 

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SHOSTAKOVICH FESTIVAL

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's 12-concert Shostakovich festival, led by cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, may look like just another marketing gimmick. But in fact Shostakovich himself sketched out the program in the early 60s, when his friend Rostropovich told him he'd like to organize such an event. Rostropovich misplaced the list and eventually forgot about it; since finding it a few years ago in a cache of old letters, he's mounted the festival in Saint Petersburg and Tokyo. It includes works Shostakovich wrote for Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya--Cello Concerto no. 1 and new orchestrations of both Schumann's Cello Concerto and Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death--as well as seven of his symphonies and three of his string quartets. It's decades too late for these pieces to seem fresh, even in the States, since much of Shostakovich's music is now part of the mainstream repertoire (the CSO has played all the festival's offerings before, with the exception of a suite from the score for a movie of Hamlet, Symphony no. 12, and selections from the socialist opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District). But the 72-year-old Rostropovich remains one of the century's most soulful performers, despite his waning technique, and the chance to hear such a formidable, compassionate musician pay homage to a master shouldn't be missed. At two of the concerts this week, Rostropovich will solo in the Cello Concerto no. 1 under the baton of William Eddins, then direct the CSO and the men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus in what's probably the festival's blockbuster, Symphony no. 13 (Babi Yar). The symphony, a setting of poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, begins by memorializing thousands of Jews butchered by the Nazis near Kiev in 1941 and closes by invoking Galileo and others who've suffered for their convictions at the hands of tyrants. Rostropovich can be a lackadaisical conductor, but Shostakovich brings out his best; he becomes the careful and passionate keeper of a legacy. Saturday, 8 PM, and Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. Rostropovich conducts the CSO at further festival performances on Thursday and Friday, May 27 and 28, and Thursday and next Friday, June 3 and 4; he performs Shostakovich's string quartets with an ensemble featuring violinist Maxim Vengerov next Saturday, June 5. Rostropovich also conducts the Civic Orchestra of Chicago at a benefit concert next Sunday, June 6. For more information see the classical listings in this section. TED SHEN

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