Joseph Horowitz at the LARB:
STEPHEN JOHNSON’S BOOK How Shostakovich Changed My Mind (2019) begins with an unforgettable story. In 2006, Johnson traveled to St. Petersburg to meet an aged clarinetist named Viktor Kozlov. Kozlov was a member of the Leningrad orchestra that somehow performed Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 on August 9, 1942. The city was under Nazi siege. Hundreds of thousands had died. The survivors were starving. Only 15 members of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra remained alive. They were joined by dozens of additional instrumentalists, mainly from military bands, brought in under armed convoy. Special rations were procured. The players were so weak that the initial rehearsals lasted only 15 to 20 minutes. The 75-minute symphony, composed in wartime, mirrored the fraught moment. Kozlov remembered:
There was a lot of applause, people standing. One woman even gave the conductor flowers — imagine, there was nothing in the city! And yet this one woman found flowers somewhere. It was wonderful! The music touched people because it reflected the Siege. […] People were thrilled and astounded that such music was played, even during the Siege of Leningrad!