Buzz Worthy

Orchestra maps season of mystery

When Leif Bjaland starts talking music, you can bet the conversation will take on an alluring melody of its own.

Bjaland is the artistic director of the Sarasota Orchestra. When I chatted with him for a story about the organization’s season announcement last week, he had me intrigued by some of next year’s highlights.

There’s live music from Alfred Hitchcock films that will be presented with footage from Hitchcock thrillers. There’s also the “Invention of the American Sound” program, which will present how Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Aaron Copland came to create the nation’s trademark sound.

But last week’s story didn’t tell you about another interesting season twist: “Shostakovich: Truth or Consequences,” a program about the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose life — from the way Bjaland tells it — sounds like it could be made into a feature film.

There’s intrigue, heightened political fear and orchestra work written in a sort of musical da Vinci code. That’s my kind of program.

The story is this: During Stalin’s rule, Shostakovich’s music was banned in the Soviet Union. His music was too reactionary for Stalin’s taste, Bjaland said.

In “Truth or Consequences,” the orchestra plans to tell why this was and will perform the very piece of music that brought on Stalin’s disgust. To get on Stalin’s bad side meant signing your death warrant.

“This is when people disappeared,” Bjaland said. “They’re there one day and then there’s a knock at the door in middle of the night and they just disappear.”

In response to the fear, Shostakovich created his “Symphony No. 5 in D minor.” The joyful work quickly became a celebrated piece that redeemed him in communist eyes, and ears.

But listen closely and you’ll hear a secret code within Shostkovich’s music: pitches that spell out names and other clues that express the composer’s true political feelings.

“He manages as a great artist to keep his integrity, but also survive,” Bjaland said.

With programs like these next season, it’s easy to see why Bjaland is so excited.

Ready to hear more about Shostakovich? You’ll have to wait until next year. The program isn’t until May 7, 2011.

Do you enjoy the Sarasota Orchestra’s unique programs? Drop me an e-mail at jholmes@ or leave a comment at