1917 - A Different Revolutionary Music
GIUSEPPE PENNISI listens to
Yuri Bashmet and his Moscow Soloists ensemble
Yuri Bashmet and his Moscow Soloists ensemble
1917 is the year of the Russian Revolution, referred as to the Ten Days that Shook the World, a well known book by the socialist American reporter, John Reed. Those days also shook the art of music because the Soviet Union developed its own official canons of 'socialist realism' for all artistic expressions. However, other musical styles flourished in the immense Union. For instance, in the first years after the October Revolution, while in Moscow the Ministry of Culture was defining the canons of 'socialist realism', jazz, futuristic operas and satirical musical comedies were blooming and booming in Leningrad (the former St Petersburg).
A distinguished feature was that both the central government and the governments of the individual republics did not let cinema replace music as an art and entertainment for either the elite or the general population. Each republic, even in far away Siberia, either had or built an opera house and a concert hall. In spite of the 'patriotic war' during the 1938-1945 period, which required huge resources, there were world premieres of forty six operas and twenty two ballets. In the years of reconstruction 1948-1957, there were world premieres of one-hundred-and-twenty operas, seventy musical comedies and fifty-five ballets. Very few of them have been performed in the Western world. Broadly, they can be divided in two typologies: 'traditional', generally based on international style, but with a bit of 'socialist realism', and 'national', rooted in specific subjects and music (including folk music) of each individual republic.
In Italy, the June-July 2017 Ravenna Festival will be in part dedicated to Russian music of that period; among other things, the program includes the futuristic opera Victory over the Sun by Mikhail Vasilyevich Matushin (1861-1934), choral music by the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, a series of virtuoso piano concerts, and Yuri Temirkanov and Denis Matsuev, with the St Petersburg Philharmonic, in a Dmitri Shostakovich symphonic concert.
The celebrations started in the Spring with an Italian tour by Yuri Bashmet and his ensemble. I caught a concert in Rome on 14 March 2017 at the Istituzione Universitaria dei Concerti in the main Hall of the 'La Sapienza' University.
Bashmet is a conductor, violinist and violist. He started his conducting activity in 1985, consistent with his reputation as a bold contemporary artist not afraid of taking risks. After the end the Soviet regime, in 1992, Bashmet reconstituted the ensemble, The Moscow Soloists, featuring some of the most talented young musicians of Russia who are graduates and postgraduate students of the Moscow Conservatory.
The ensemble performs in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory and tours extensively abroad. Its performances have been recorded for broadcast by major record and radio companies.
The program offered by Bashmet has nothing to do with 'socialist realism'; it may almost be considered a sample of 'dissident' music in the Soviet Union. In fact, Visions fugitives Op 22 by Sergei Prokofiev (performed in the string version by Rudolf Barshai) were composed during 1915 and 1917 — hence before the October Revolution — and have the flavor of innovative twentieth century music which exploded in Prokofiev's American and French periods (eg The Love of Three Oranges).
Also Dmitri Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony No 110 (a string ensemble transcription of his Quartet No 8) is dedicated 'to all victims of fascism and war'. Shostakovich added: 'I have an immense pain for those killed by Hitler but have the same pain for those murdered on Stalin's command'. Composed while in Dresden under the anguish for its destruction, it is almost a personal confession of the suffering due to the war; it ends with an adagio which is almost an unreal view of peace.
The Chamber Symphony No 14 by Georgy Sviridov is also molded by the days when war was devastating Europe in the year 1940 when the composer was twenty-five. Alfred Schnittke's Concert for Three is full of nostalgia. It was composed in 1994 for Bashmet, Gidon Kremer and Mstislav Rostropovich who, like Schnittke, were living in exile. In Rome the three soloists were Bashmet himself on viola, violinist Andrey Poskrobko and cellist Alexey Naidenov.
The concert ended with the first performance in Rome of Silvia Colasanti's Preludio, Presto e Lamento, a virtuoso piece written especially for Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists.
The hall was full. The audience discovered a different Russian revolutionary music and was enthralled.
Copyright © 21 March 2017 Giuseppe Pennisi,