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  • Writer's pictureMartin

Why play Russian music now?

My first concerts of 2023 were with the Rogue Valley Symphony, featuring Borodin's Symphony No. 2, "Heroic," and Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Alexander Sitkovetsky. Opinions vary: should we perform Russian music these days?

Before you read my take, one quick note: I totally get that Ukrainians do not want to perform Russian music. It has been almost eight decades since WWII and you still rarely ever hear Wagner in Israel. For the rest of us, however, I believe the line should be drawn elsewhere.

January 2023

Dear RVS patrons,

The upcoming series with the Rogue Valley Symphony is acutely topical. In the atmosphere of Russia’s senseless, barbaric war waged on neighboring Ukraine, we are doing a program of Russian music. I put together this music before the invasion began and I never felt that succumbing to the hysteria of banning everything Russian was the right answer to anything. Rather, deciphering what makes one country evolve in such a terrible direction is.

It would be as foolish to stop playing Borodin and Shostakovich – both of whom have nothing to do with the recent atrocities – as it would be to stop reading Tolstoy and Bulgakov. Look closer and this concert offers great insight into the ying and yang of the Russian soul. The idealism and exultation of the Borodin promote the best instinct of the nation that gifted the world an incredibly rich cultural heritage. On the other hand, no composer captured the negligence, belligerence, brutality, and moral numbness of the Soviet system better than Shostakovich. His works explore the dark, anxiety-inducing impulses of the paranoid system that, tragically, has recaptured the Russian society disillusioned with the messiness of the democratic project.

Borodin looked back and saw the proud traditions of Russia’s people as building blocks for its luminous future. Shostakovich looked around and saw a country living in a perpetual state of feverish nightmare. How to reconcile these antagonistic visions? Perhaps today’s concert offers some guidance.

Here is to 2023 being a year of good judgement, wise solutions, empathy to strangers and love for our friends.

Martin Majkut

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