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Showing posts from March, 2016

Ostrovsky: The great playwright we’ve never heard of

The censor’s report on Alexander Ostrovsky’s first full-length plarovsky'y “A Family Affair” read: “All the characters are first class villains, the dialogue is filthy, the entire play is an insult to the Russian Merchant Class.”

The Tsar banned the play, but later his status was assured and his work is still topical and entertaining. Today he is one of Russia’s most popular and often-performed playwrights.

So why have most of us in the west never heard of him?

Jacqui Honess-Martin, who recently directed the English language premiere of Ostrovsky’s “Bespridannitsa” (“Girl with no Dowry” or “Fiancée without Fortune”) at London’s Arcola Theatre, has several possible answers: “British theatre doesn’t do a lot of foreign classics,” she explained. “It tends to be Ibsen and Chekhov and that’s about it. We’re very comfortable doing drama about the remote upper classes; we’re not so comfortable doing drama that criticizes the middle classes. Ostrovsky is also very difficult to translate. He …

Sergej Rachmaninov - Vespers for alto, tenor & chorus, Op. 37

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Sergey Rachmaninov - Vespers. Mass for mixed choir, Op 37
Valery Polyansky, conductor

The Romanovs: masterful account of Russia’s doomed royal family

This May will see the release of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Romanovs: 1613-1918 in the United States. It is an exhaustive look at the full sweeping arc of Russia’s doomed royal family. The public has an insatiable appetite for the Romanovs, whether in the form of tiny animated bats or Orthodox saints or Pinterest boards swollen with sad, hand-colored photographs of worried children clustered around their parents’ chairs.

That Nicholas II and his family occupy such a prominent place in the American popular imagination has an obvious source: the immense popularity of Robert K Massie’s 1967 biography, Nicholas and Alexandra: An Intimate Account of the Last of the Romanovs and the Fall of Imperial Russia.

Written a decade before the remains of Nicholas, Alexandra and three of their children were exhumed from their hastily selected resting place underneath Koptyaki Road (Marie and Alexei’s bodies were found in 2007, a short distance away from the others), and two decades before the Yurovs…

Empress Elizaveta Petrovna Romanova

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Empress Elizaveta Petrovna was the daughter of Peter the Great, and ruled the Russian Empire for twenty years (1741-1762). Although she took the throne through a palace coup, her rule of the country was mild and allowed Russia to prosper in the arts and education. Her pro-Russian domestic policies increased the presence of the Russian nobility in the government. She also defeated the strongest warrior of Europe at the time, the Prussian king Frederick II, but died before her victory could be secured.

Elizabeth was born in Moscow in 1709 to Peter the Great and his mistress Catherine (the future Empress Catherine I) before they were officially married. Her education mostly centered on learning French, as her parents envisioned marrying her into the Bourbon dynasty of French royalty.

As she grew up into a lively and beautiful woman, Peter proposed his plan to the French court. However, the young French king Louis XV rejected the possibility. Elizabeth instead took a lover from the guard sq…

Catherine The Great - BBC Documentary

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Model for Dr. Zhivago's Lara Betrayed Pasternak to K.G.B.

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There is no more enduring Russian love story than that of the writer Boris Pasternak and the woman who was the model for Lara, the radiant heroine of ''Doctor Zhivago.'' Except that now it seems that the real-life Lara, Pasternak's longtime mistress, muse and literary assistant, Olga Ivinskaya, informed on him to the K.G.B. In 1961, while a prisoner of the Soviet gulag, where she was sent because of her association with Pasternak, Olga Ivinskaya wrote to Nikita Khrushchev begging for her freedom and reminding him of how she cooperated with the Government's efforts to silence the writer. Ivinskaya told the Soviet leader how she tried to cancel the writer's meetings with foreigners, worked closely with the Central Committee to try and delay publication in the West of ''Doctor Zhivago,'' the epic novel of an idealistic Russian poet and his lover caught up in the turbulence of the Russian Revolution, and dissuaded Pasternak from leaving the Soviet …

Boris Pasternak: Dawn

You meant everything in my destiny. 
Then came war, devastation, 
And for a long, long time there was 
No word of you, no breath. 

And after many, many years 
Your voice has stirred me up again. 
All night I read your Testament, 
As if I were reviving from a faint. 

I want to go to people, into the crowd, 
Into their morning animation. 
I’m ready to smash everything to bits 
And put everybody on their knees. 

And I go running down the stairs, 
As if I’m coming out for the first time 
Onto these streets covered with snow 
And these deserted sidewalks. 

Everywhere waking up, lights, warmth, 
They drink tea, hurry for the tram. 
In the course of only a few minutes 
The city’s altered beyond recognition. 

In the gateway the blizzard weaves 
A net of thickly falling flakes, 
And in order to get somewhere on time, 
They drop their breakfast and rush off. 

I feel for them, for all of them, 
As if I were inside their skin, 
I myself melt as the snow melts, 
I myself knit my brows like morning. 

With me are people withou…

Vladimir Solovyov: Skeptic

In the evening and in the morning, early,
During the day and in the dead of night,
In great heat or freeze, midst hurricane –
I'm always swaying my head side to side,
Now burying my sight deep in the earth,
Now directing my steady gaze at the sky,
Listening intently to the rustle of trees –
As though to read therein my tea-leaved fate.
What way to choose, where leads my path?
Whom should I love and whom pursue?
Walk toward a temple – to pray to God,
Or into the forest  – to murder passersby?     Count AE. Heliotropov, 1886

Dmitri Shostakovich: Sonata for viola and piano Op. 147.

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Dmitri Shostakovich
Sonata for viola and piano.
Op. 147
Year: 1975
Kim Kashkashian, viola
Robert Levin, piano

The Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147 is the last composition by Dmitri Shostakovich. Completed in July 1975, just weeks before his death, it is dedicated to Fyodor Druzhinin, violist in the Beethoven Quartet.[1] The work received its official premiere in October 1975 with the performing forces of violist Fyodor Druzhinin and pianist Mikhail Muntyan. Appearing at the end of the composer's compositional output, the Sonata for Viola and Piano effectively represents the bleak, mortality-obsessed late style composition of Shostakovich.

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Joseph Brodsky, Darker and Brighter

In June 1972, a young poet from Leningrad stepped off a plane in Detroit and into a new life. His expulsion from the Soviet Union had won him international fame; yet he didn’t know how to drive, how to open a bank account or write a check, or how to use a toaster. His English, largely self-taught, was almost incomprehensible. He had dropped out of school at 15. Nevertheless, at age 32, he would soon start his first real job, and at a world-class institution: He was the new poet in residence at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Within a few years, Joseph Brodsky would be a colossus on the New York literary scene. Within 15, he would be awarded a Nobel Prize.

At the moment the plane landed, however, Brodsky became the poster boy for Soviet persecution: a “victim,” in other words, and therefore a cliché. He wasn’t the cliché, but publicity would grant him instant power and prestige in his adopted land. The American voices suddenly clamoring around him could not fathom the forces th…

Vladimir Nabokov: Natasha

On the stairs Natasha ran into her neighbor from across the hall, Baron Wolfe. He was somewhat laboriously ascending the bare wooden steps, caressing the bannister with his hand and whistling softly through his teeth.

 “Where are you off to in such a hurry, Natasha?”

“To the drugstore to get a prescription filled. The doctor was just here. Father is better.”

“Ah, that’s good news.”

She flitted past in her rustling raincoat, hatless.

Leaning over the bannister, Wolfe glanced back at her. For an instant he caught sight from overhead of the sleek, girlish part in her hair. Still whistling, he climbed to the top floor, threw his rain-soaked briefcase on the bed, then thoroughly and satisfyingly washed and dried his hands.

Then he knocked on old Khrenov’s door.

Khrenov lived in the room across the hall with his daughter, who slept on a couch, a couch with amazing springs that rolled and swelled like metal tussocks through the flabby plush. There was also a table, unpainted and covered with ink-sp…

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.44

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N. Järvi
Saint Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra

Sergey Rachmaninov - Biography

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"I write the music which I hear playing inside me... I am a Russian composer, therefore my temperament, outlook and music are quintessentially Russian..." - Rachmaninov Sergey

Rachmaninov is widely regarded as one of the greatest 20th century composers and pianists. He left behind a large number of piano concertos, etudes, sonatas, variations and, of course, his world-famous “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” for piano and orchestra. Rachmaninov was born on an estate at Oneg near the northwestern city of Novgorod into a noble and musical family of Tatar descent that had been in the service of the Russian tsars since the 16th century. His parents were both amateur pianists, and he had his first piano lessons with his mother on their family estate. His mother pushed him to start playing the piano at age four. His grandfather had been a pupil of John Field. When Sergey was nine, financial difficulties forced the family to sell their estate and move to St. Petersburg, where Serge…

Marina Tsvetaeva: Elderberry

Elderberry fills the scene!Elderberry, green and green. Greener than mould on the vat! Summer’s birth, greener than that! Elderberry, till the light dies! Elderberry, green as my eyes.
And later – at night – with the fires Of Rostov! – redness in the eyes, From the bubbling trill of elderberry, Redder than measles on the body, In all your days of azure, Measles sprinkled abroad.
Elderberry, till winter, winter. What colours, deeper, run In small berries’ sweet poison! With red cotton, sealing wax, Hades, Mix, tiny bright coral beads, baste With baked blood, just a taste.
Elderberry, fresh killed, killed! Elderberry – the whole garden filled With blood, pure and young, With blood, blazing branches hung – With the happiest blood, so fine: Heart’s blood – yours, and mine…
Later – oatmeal in excess Later – elderberry blackness: Of stickiness, and of plum, Over the gate, a violin moan, Near the house, that is empty, A lone bush of elderberry.
Elderberry – crazy, so crazy, I too am one of your berries, Huns to the Steppe…

Dimtri Shostakovich: String Quartet No 8, in C Minor, Op. 110

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Kronos String Quartet

Dmtri Shostakovich dedicated his music to all his friend and people who were victims in the Nazi holocaust. Each piece of his music is a tombstone to honor their souls.

Mikhail Zoshchenko - Biography

Mikhail Zoshchenko was an iconic figure in Soviet satire. He was a remarkable writer who was particularly popular in the 1920s and 1930s for his satirical depictions of the realities of Soviet rlife. Zoshchenko’s works made him one of the most widely appreciated writers in modern Russian literature.

Mikhail Zoshchenko was born in Poltava, in present-day Ukraine. His father was an artist specializing in historical pieces, whose paintings are still on display in Russia’s Tretyakov Gallery and the Suvorov Museum. The family was of Ukrainian origin, descended from the hereditary nobility. Zoshchenko’s mother was Russian, and worked as an actress. Zoshchenko was the third of eight children, although little is known of his siblings. The sole sources of information on Zoshchenko's childhood are his later autobiographical sketches and comments that appear in his fiction.

He was drawn to writing at a young age, composing poetry by 1902. He attempted his first work of prose in 1907, the same …

Prokofiev - 5 Poems by Akhmatova

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Five Poems by Anna Akhmatova op.27
Vishnevskaya / Rostropovich

An intimate survey of Russia at its greatest

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The question of where Russia belongs – whether in Europe, in Asia or its own unique sphere – is one that has exercised the world and the country itself for centuries. With relations between Russia and the West at their tensest since the Cold War, these are matters that confront us now every time we hear the news. And they permeate this fascinating exhibition on the period that produced Russia’s greatest writers and composers, 1867 to 1914.

As you walk into the exhibition, the great figures are all there in their most iconic portraits on loan from Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery: Chekhov, in pince-nez and goatee beard, looking like an avuncular GP (he was a doctor by profession); Dostoevsky, hunched and haunted in a voluminous overcoat; Tchaikovsky, looking up frowning, his mouth open, as though interrupted in the middle of a grumpy monologue; Tolstoy, thickly bearded, working at his desk.

We encounter figures we know about, but whose appearance we may never have considered: Ivan Turge…

Prokofiev - Symphony No 5

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Symphony No 5 in B-flat major, Op 100
Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra
Valery Gergiev
New York, January 2015

Sergey Prokofiev - Biography

Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev can be easily considered one of the most important composers of the twentieth century.

Prokofiev was born in Ukraine on 27 April 1891, in the farming village of Sontsovka, then part of the Russian empire. However, he was far from being denied exposure to music. He grew up listening to the sonatas of Beethoven and then Chopin and Liszt and his favorite Russian composers were Peter Tchaikovsky and Anton Rubinstein.

While his parents recognized his musical talent early on, they never forced it upon him, only committing him to piano lessons at the age of seven. Nevertheless, Prokofiev was able to produce his first composition at the tender age of five, which his mother dubbed “Indian Gallop.” Because of his parents’ insistence on a rounded education, Prokofiev was exposed to science and mathematics, most likely leading to his life long passion for chess, which started playing at an early age.

In 1900, the young composer made his first trip Moscow and saw two…

Vsevolod Meyerhold - Biography

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Vsevolod Meyerhold was a Russian and Soviet actor and theater director, and the creator of a new acting system called “biomechanics”. It is hard to overestimate his role in the development of the Russian theater.

Meyerhold’s birthname was not Vsevolod, but Karl Kasimir Theodor. He was born in a Lutheran German family which lived in the Russian city of Penza. His father owned a liquor factory and was rather rich, though strict: he controlled the children’s expenses and was never generous with pocket money. He was not much interested in any of the arts, while his wife organized musical evenings regularly and was fond of the theater. Karl and his siblings shared her interest and often participated in amateur plays.

In the gymnasium, Karl was not a high achiever: he had to repeat a year three times to get a certificate of completion. He graduated in 1895, and attended the law department of the Moscow State University. Same year, he did two things that shocked his family: he converted to th…

The Writer and the Valet - Boris Pasternak: Dr Zhivago

Isaiah Berlin was on his honeymoon – he married late – when he first read Dr Zhivago. It was the evening of Saturday, 18 August 1956, and he had just made the short journey back to Moscow from the village of Peredelkino, where he had spent the day with Boris Pasternak. Pasternak’s dacha was part of a complex set up on Stalin’s orders in 1934 to reward the Soviet Union’s most prominent writers. One of them, Korney Chukovsky, described the scheme as ‘entrapping writers within a cocoon of comforts, surrounding them with a network of spies’. Periodically, and usually at night, the NKVD would turn over a dacha and bundle its resident into a waiting car. Pasternak’s immediate neighbour and friend, Boris Pilnyak, was arrested in October 1937, removed to the Lubyanka, and killed with a single bullet to the back of the head. The same fate awaited Isaac Babel, who was taken from Peredelkino in May 1939. There were others, less well known, but equals in the manner of their death.

How Pasternak su…