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Showing posts from June, 2016

Anton Chekhov: A Post-Modernist Way Ahead Of His Time

I have been translating Anton Chekhov for over 20 years, bringing into English more than a hundred stories that are lesser-known, unknown, or untranslated. I have been asking myself throughout these two decades: What is Chekhovian? We hear of Chekhovian situations, Chekhovian despair, Chekhovian resolutions. There is Nabokov’s famous take on “Chekhovian” in his novel Pnin: Ten years before, she had had a handsome heel for a lover who had jilted her for a little tramp, and later she had had a dragging, hopelessly complicated—Chekhovian rather than Dostoevskian—affair with a cripple, who was now married to his nurse, a cheap cutie. But is Chekhovian really something “dragging and hopelessly complicated?” There is the deep and elusive quality of his plays, which so many directors throughout the world try to fathom every year, and there is also the complexity of the stories he wrote in the last years of his brief life—he died at the age of 44, in 1904—but there is much more to Chekhov’s wor…

Innokenty Annensky: Petersburg

The yellow steam of Petersburg's winter,
The yellow snow which clings to the flagstones…
I don't know where you are, and where we are,
Only that we are part of each other.
Did the tsar's decree create us?
Did the Swedes forget to drown us?
Instead of a fairy tale our past contains
Only stones and terrible happenings.
The magician gave us only stones
And the brownish-yellow Neva
And deserts of squares that are mute
Where executions were held till dawn.
And what went on in our land,
What raised our two-headed eagle on high,
In dark laurels, the giant on the rock,
Will tomorrow be game for the workers?
Even he who was furious and brave
Was betrayed by his galloping steed,
The tsar could not crush the snake,
Pinned down, it became our idol.
No Kremlins, no miracles, nothing sacred,
Neither mirages, nor tears, nor a smile…
Only stones from the frozen wastes
And the knowledge of an accursed mistake.
Even in May, when the shadows
Of the white night spill over the waves,
It is not the magic of a springtime…

Facing the music: Yevgeny Sudbin

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Yevgeny Sudbin D. Scarlatti : Sonata in F minor, K.466


How do you mostly listen to music? The times when I most often find myself listening to classical music seems to be in the second halves of concerts after having performed a concerto in the first half (I usually try to stay on and listen). These are some of the rare occasions when I don’t associate classical music with also having to perform it myself in the immediate future, and hence I find it more enjoyable. It may sound strange, but a lot of the time classical music just makes me anxious so I don’t listen to it as much as it seems to be expected of a musician, especially during a busy touring season. What was the first record or cd you bought? Back at home in St Petersburg we had a box of LPs from the Russian classical label Melodiya which I would rummage through when I was three or four. The one I would put on the most was Gilel’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, to which I would play along on our upright piano…

New novel reveals the bygone Stalinist Moscow

Natalia Gromova's work "Moscow in the 1930s: A Novel from the Archives," recently released by Glagoslav Publications, reveals Moscow as it was in a bygone age. This city of old is now only found on maps, but it is an era that continues to haunt us today. RBTH is publishing an exclusive extract from the book.

Chapter 6. The House That Flew Away A story Whenever I had a fight with my parents, I would always imagine that I had been a foundling child. This started when I was around ten years old. Any reproach from my father was all it took for me to think: I probably wasn’t their own child, they were concealing the truth from me, and somewhere out there my real parents were walking around, they would never raise their voices at me, and they certainly wouldn’t cuff me on the nape. My tears would flow as I felt sorry for myself. I would turn over these tragic, and, at the same time, sweet thoughts on our balcony. The balcony was small, with thick bars, and it hung over an enormous…

Stalin’s Curse

Josef Stalin collapsed alone in the early morning of Feb. 29, 1953, after bidding a five a.m. farewell to his inner circle. The dictator’s cronies, Nikita Khrushchev, Lavrenti Beria, Georgy Malenkov, and Nikolai Bulganin, had been forced to endure another long, liquor-soaked dinner with their leader and earlier, a movie (Stalin adored Hollywood films). A week later, on the evening of March 5, Stalin’s daughter Svetlana witnessed her father’s last moments as he lay struggling for breath at his dacha in a Moscow suburb. “He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something above and bringing down a curse on us all,” she wrote later. “The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace, and no one could say to whom or at what it might be directed.” A few seconds later, Stalin was dead.

Stalin’s last gesture is telling: a threat from above called down on everyone at once, even, perhaps, on himself. The gesture’s power derives from its inscrutable willfulness: No one cou…

Igor Levit plays Beethoven

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Igor Levit plays Beethoven's Piano Sonata no.17 in D minor, op.31 no.2, 2nd movement



Born in Nizhni Nowgorod in 1987, Igor Levit at age eight moved with his family to Germany where he completed his piano studies at Hannover Academy of Music, Theatre and Media in 2009 with the highest academic and performance scores in the history of the institute. Mr. Levit has studied under the tutelage of Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, Matti Raekallio, Bernd Goetze, Lajos Rovatkay and Hans Leygraf.

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Sakhalin to Moscow: How a brief Asia trip revived Chekhov’s sagging spirits

In 1890 Anton Chekhov, who by all accounts was a highly sensitive person, was completely shaken up by his three months on Sakhalin Island. After a long and grueling journey by train, horse-carriage and ferry from Moscow to the island in the Russian Far East, Chekhov spent three months interviewing settlers and convicts on what was then a penal colony. “He was more than happy to leave a place he called “hell” and take a more comfortable journey back to Moscow by ship,” says Tamara Chikova, a retired academician in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. “His letters indicate that the bad impressions of Sakhalin stayed in his head throughout the journey, but Chekhov was happy to see the colors and life of Asia.” After setting sail from Vladivostok, which Chekhov lamented was characterized by “poverty, ignorance and worthlessness that might drive one to despair,” his ship bypassed Japan – in the grip of a cholera epidemic at the time – and headed for Hong Kong. The writer took an instant liking for the city. A…