The National Symphony Orchestra has revised its program for March 3, 4 and 8 to accommodate a new piece of music sent to it from the Soviet Union.
The work, "Stykhira" ("Liturgical Hymn") by Rodion Shchedrin, is dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, who will conduct the first performance. It is the first work written specifically for Rostropovich by a major composer living in the Soviet Union since the cellist-conductor and his family were forced to emigrate in 1974.
Shchedrin is probably the best known and most successful living Soviet composer -- a prolific, melodious and clever master of musical artifice who has managed to stay in good standing with the authorities in the Soviet Union while producing works that sometimes seem to test the limits of acceptability under the canons of "socialist realism."
One of his early works, the cantata "Byurokratiada," is a gentle choral satire that sets to music the unintelligible texts of official regulations from a Soviet health institution.
The 55-year-old Shchedrin is the secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers and for more than a quarter-century has been considered a likely successor to Tikhon Khrennikov as chairman of that organization. But so far Khrennikov has managed to keep that position.
An early Shchedrin work, "Ozorniye chastushki" ("Naughty Limericks") was given its American premiere by Rostropovich and the NSO in 1967.
Shchedrin and his wife, Bolshoi prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, will be the central figures in the "Making Music Together" cultural exchange festival that will open in Boston a week after the world premiere of "Stykhira" in Washington. The festival in Boston will feature the American premiere of Shchedrin's opera "Dead Souls" as well as the ballets "Anna Karenina," "Lady With a Small Dog" and "The Seagull," with music by Shchedrin and choreography by Plisetskaya.
"Stykhira" is an orchestral piece with no vocal part, lasting about 14 minutes. It was composed, according to Shchedrin, "for the millennium of the baptism of Russia." This ties it in with widespread celebrations the officially atheist Soviet government is sponsoring this year to celebrate the official introduction of Christianity into Russia. The anniversary being commemorated is the proclamation by Grand Duke Vladimir I of Kiev in 988 that made the Greek Orthodox Church the official religion in his jurisdiction. Protests have been made and others are being prepared by religious organizations that object to religious celebrations by the Communists, and by Ukrainian organizations that insist it was the Ukraine, not Russia, that adopted Christianity in 988.