The fearless musical philosophy of Sofia Gubaidulina : Deceptive Cadence A new album, marking the Russian composer's 90th birthday, is packed with probing works for huge symphonic forces.

Review

The fearless musical philosophy of Sofia Gubaidulina

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1053876374/1056987533" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina believes music can bring a spiritual dimension to our lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEIPZIG GEWANDHAUS ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF GUBAIDULINA'S "THE LIGHT OF THE END")

KELLY: Gubaidulina turned 90 last month. And to mark the occasion, there's a new album featuring three works that grapple with some of life's big questions. Our reviewer, NPR's Tom Huizenga, searches for answers within the music.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Sofia Gubaidulina is something of a musical philosopher. On this new album, she wrestles with building relationships with God and nature. Her tools include the transformational power of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEIPZIG GEWANDHAUS ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF GUBAIDULINA'S "DIALOG: I AND YOU")

HUIZENGA: This piece is titled "Dialog: I And You," but it's really more of an argument about how we relate to everything around us disguised as a violin concerto. It was inspired by Martin Buber's philosophy of dialogue, and you can hear it in the music. Listen to the violin, played by Vadim Repin, making a bold statement. Then the brass-heavy orchestra shouts it down.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEIPZIG GEWANDHAUS ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF GUBAIDULINA'S "DIALOG: I AND YOU")

HUIZENGA: Gubaidulina's career path has had its ups and downs. She grew up poor in the rural Tartar region of the Soviet Union. As a student in Moscow, she met the revered composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who told her to continue down her incorrect path. In other words, don't compromise. That path led to music awards, but also official blacklisting. In 1973, a supposed KGB operative tried to strangle Gubaidulina. When she asked him why it was taking so long, he fled.

Gubaidulina's faith in God is fierce, and so is her music. For instance, nothing says God is angry better than a horde of snarling tubas.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEIPZIG GEWANDHAUS ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF GUBAIDULINA'S "THE WRATH OF GOD")

HUIZENGA: That's the opening section to Gubaidulina's "The Wrath Of God," a 17-minute workup for the brass section. But alongside all the angst are moments of luminous delicacy. She dedicated the piece to Beethoven, and amid gleaming brass fanfares, Gubaidulina tips a hat to Beethoven's 9th in the thrilling final measures.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEIPZIG GEWANDHAUS ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF GUBAIDULINA'S "THE WRATH OF GOD")

HUIZENGA: This is an album of confrontations. And in the final piece, called "The Light Of The End," the conflict is between us and nature. It's a battle right there in the music as Gubaidulina contrasts the very physics of music itself. Listen to this skirmish between horn and cello, each playing in a separate tuning system - natural and tempered.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEIPZIG GEWANDHAUS ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF GUBAIDULINA'S "THE LIGHT OF THE END")

HUIZENGA: This album is proof of at least two things - the immense power of a symphony orchestra firing on all cylinders, especially in these supercharged performances by conductor Andris Nelsons and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and the fertile imagination of Sofia Gubaidulina, a wise, long-lived composer still offering her transformative music.

KELLY: The album features three works by Sofia Gubaidulina. Our reviewer is NPR's Tom Huizenga.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEIPZIG GEWANDHAUS ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF GUBAIDULINA'S "THE LIGHT OF THE END")

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.