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Work of the Week – Valentin Silvestrov: Symphony No 3

The London Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates Valentin Silvestrov’s 80th birthday with the UK premiere of his Symphony No. 3 (“Eschatophony”) at Royal Festival Hall on 27 September with conductor Vladimir Jurowski.

Silvestrov was 15 when he began teaching himself the craft of composition. While studying engineering in Kiev, he continued his musical education in the evenings, eventually winning the Koussevitzky Prize at the age of 30. However, he was expelled from the Composers’ Union of the USSR shortly after for embracing the “Kiev Avantgarde” movement.

During this period, Silvestrov experimented with significant contrasts in his compositions. Symphony No. 3 is one such example, featuring interactions between complex rhythms and free improvisation. It was this rejection of traditional forms and structures that led to his works being banned in his home country of Ukraine, though they achieved great success in Europe and America.

Symphony No. 3 by Valentin Silvestrov: Music from the beginning of a new world

The subtitle “Eschatophony” is a neologism fusing eschatology, the area of theology concerned death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul, and the Greek word for sound, phoné, to lend a musical connotation.

According to [Silvestrov], everything already exists – everything has already been written. In order to understand this you have to think of the Lord Almighty. Everything has been created before, all you have to do is to listen to it carefully and call it up again. Then another thing begins to vibrate. It’s always been there but now we can feel its vibration and understand it as music. – Sofia Gubaidulina on Silvestrov’s understanding of music

A new world is created in every performance of Symphony No. 3 as the score is peppered with instructions such as “chromatic cluster of indefinite size” or “atonal improvisation corresponding to the graphic model”. Improvised passages for the strings and percussion also occur in each of the three movements.

Further performances of Silvestrov’s works are planned around the world in honour of his 80th birthday on 30 September.  On 28 September Symphony No. 8 can be heard in the Sibelius Hall in Lahti, Finland played by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and John Storgårds; on 30 September and 1 October at the Kulturpalast Dresden, Serenade and Elegy for string orchestra will be performed by the Dresden Philharmonic conducted by Kirill Karabatis; on 27 October, Adelphi Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Lyndon-Gee will present Postludium at the Adelphi University Performing Arts Center in New York; on 4 November Symphony No 4 and Postludium can be heard in Tokyo played by the NCTS Orchestra and Dennis Russell Davies; and on 11 November, the Svetlanov Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski will perform Dedication in Moscow.

His publishers Belaieff and Schott Music send Valentin Silvestrov their warmest congratulations on this occasion.