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Originally published Friday, May 10, 2013 at 5:30 AM

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At SSO: Two nights of Shostakovich, two Schwarzes

Seattle Symphony’s “Russian Spectacular” programs continue May 16-17, 2013, with two all-Shostakovich programs led by Gerard Schwarz.

Special to The Seattle Times

CONCERT PREVIEW

Seattle Symphony Orchestra: Russian Spectacular

7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. May 17, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $19-$112 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).

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Votkinsk-born Tchaikovsky shares two programs with Salzburg native Mozart in the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s “Russian Spectacular” this week. But next week at Benaroya Hall, the work of one Russian composer spans two full evenings.

St. Petersburg native Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the 20th century’s most important musical figures, will be celebrated in what amounts to a mini-festival of his works, led by SSO conductor laureate Gerard Schwarz, and feature some noteworthy soloists.

On Thursday, Schwarz and the orchestra will be joined by the celebrated pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn in a performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Principal trumpet David Gordon will also have a solo spot in that sometimes sardonic piece, with its four movements played without pause.

Originally from Moscow, Solzhenitsyn, conductor laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, serves on the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music.

Also on the bill is the composer’s stirring 1937 Symphony No. 5 in D minor, which Shostakovich wrote following one of his periodic falls from grace during Stalin’s reign of terror. In the eyes of authorities, the Fifth, with its popular appeal, presented a chance for Shostakovich to “rehabilitate” his career — and possibly save his own life — following several denounced works of musical complexity.

Thursday’s show also offers “October,” a 1967 tone poem and one of several Shostakovich pieces focused on Russia’s 1917 revolution.

On Friday, Schwarz leads the beleaguered Shostakovich’s atypically joyful 1954 “Festive Overture,” as well as audience favorite (and another rehabilitation work) Symphony No. 11 in G minor.

The special guest that night is Julian Schwarz, the conductor’s son.

The younger Schwarz will take on the challenging, energy-sapping Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major.

Schwarz — the cellist — says he and his father performed the anxious, haunting piece last January in Boca Raton, Fla.

“At times its visceral, and other times beautiful and sad,” he says, noting the first movement has a famously insistent, four-note motif (reprised in the fourth movement) that Shostakovich used as a secret signature, an act of rebellion.

“The motif is almost like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, in that it keeps propelling the movement forward,” Schwarz says. “The concerto also has a small orchestration, so the cello is very much at the fore of the texture. There’s also a virtuosic part for the horn player in the second movement.”

Schwarz says the concerto’s cadenza (a solo passage) — which takes up the whole of the third movement and propels right into the fourth — “takes you on a real journey.”

The entire work requires a combination of adrenaline and careful pacing for a soloist.

“Once you start the second movement, the cello plays until the end of the piece,” Schwarz says. “You press on the gas near the end. I love playing it so much.”

Schwarz, 22, is finishing his degree at Juilliard and is building a career through traveling and performing. He is also presenting new works and seeking funding for commissions.

“I’m trying to shape my future,” he says. “I hope people can be aware of what I have to offer musically.”

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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