Bernstein: ‘Slava! A Political Overture’ (1977)

Another Bernstein rarity, this one written for the inaugural season of Mstislav Rostropovich (Slava) as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. There’s a nifty part for electric guitar partway through, and a taped sequence of political speeches (sometimes cut, though not here).

Rostropovich was of course a political figure, dubbed a dissident by the Soviets after he came to the United States. His appointment as music director of our national orchestra was a nice thumb on the nose gesture by us. Bernstein had been instrumental in getting Slava and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, out of the Soviet Union.

It’s a wonderfully whacky piece that seems to capture some of the atmosphere of political Washington, even to this day. In its way, this overture is kind of a musical equivalent of a satirical essay by H.L. Mencken.

Leonard Bernstein conducts the Israel Philharmonic. –TM

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