Zen and the art of Shostakovich

"When I played Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony in Russia, I put it together with his song-cycle on Japanese texts. There I am emphasising the rather tragic aspect of the symphony, which is often neglected, and also the oriental touch about the first movement. I mean like Zen, like Japanese Zen. If you listen to the flute duet in the middle of the first movement of the Sixth Symphony, with the tam-tam and the harp - it's the most peculiar music, and the only thing it makes you think of is the last movement of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. That piece is totally Zen, and Shostakovich said the one piece he would take to a desert island would be Das Lied. But Russians have always had their own specific perception of Buddhism. If you read Tolstoy, a lot of his writings coincide with Buddhist thought, and I think the most Buddhist aspect of Russian culture is its passivity. Now, Shostakovich cannot be counted as passive, but this passage in the Sixth Symphony is completely static."

"I discovered the
Tao Te King of Lao Tse about five years ago. It's one of the most important books in the history of mankind. We were never able to have a Bible at home, but this was 1987, so Gorbachev's glasnost was beginning to have its effects, and there were unofficial booksellers on the streets. It was a Bible in Russian, and I still have it. My parents thought I was losing my mind.The way yoga changes your perception of the world is amazing. It's another kind of ecstatic experience."

Designate London Philharmonic principal conductor, and Glyndeborne music director, Vladimir Jurowski (photo above) talks to Tom Service in today's Guardian.

Now see the light with Shostakovich and candles

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SimonT said…
Any idea what "totally Zen" means and how it applies to this piece of music?
proulx michel said…
I find that a bit funny, and typical of the misunderstandings that people from Christian cultures have of Buddhism, and of course of Zen Buddhism, because Buddhism is about action. What makes people misunderstand it with passivity, is that Buddhism teaches that you can act only on the base of things as they are, and not as you'd dream them. So, of course, when there's nothing to do, why get excited? (Notice I didn't write "don't bother"...)

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