PostHeaderIcon The Music Maven Behind “The Soviet Arts Experience”

Soviet-Arts-Experience-logo_FA_cmyk-webYou probably have not heard of “The Soviet Arts Experience.”  You may think it was some Russian cultural propaganda during the Cold War? No. It is an adventurous series of music, art and theater programs running in Chicago over the next 15 months to showcase major 20th Century contributions by Soviet artists. I guarantee that, when it ends in January, 2012, few will remain unaware of it and it will be judged an inspired triumph of cultural programming.

The Soviet Arts Experience (SAR) opened on October 1st with a recital by the Tokyo String Quartet that featured a work by the talented Russian composer, Lera Auerbach, and continued through the month with an electrifying performance by the Chicago Symphony of Dimitri Shostokovich’s Eighth Symphony and impassioned performances of 5 of Shostokovich’s 15 string quartets by the Pacifica String Quartet at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall. The festival has already hit several high notes, so I’d urge you to book tickets soon for Pacifica’s final three concerts of the cycle. You will be treated to chamber music at its finest.  Go to Pacifica’s website and click on “News” for more information.

Shauna Quill

Shauna Quill

The impresario behind such an ambitious undertaking is not a New York music producer or one of our city’s major cultural institutions. Instead, Shauna Quill, who runs the University of Chicago’s extensive classical music program has shepherded this idea and assembled an impressive alliance of 25 local arts organizations from the Art Institute, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Opera Theater, the Goodman, Court and Auditorium theaters, Ravinia and the Grant Park Music Festival.

The germ of the idea that led to this festival occurred approximately 18 months ago, when the Pacifica Quartet informed Quill about their plans to schedule the rarely played Shostokovich string quartet cycle in a series of five recitals. Quill was impressed with the daring of the project and began thinking of how to capitalize on and draw attention to these compositions, pieces rarely-performed in their entirety.

She began calling other arts organizations in town and asked if they would like to  showcase works by artists who created during the time of the Soviet Union’s authoritarian rule by its supreme political body, the Politburo. The concept was enthusiastically received and, when the project was announced last March, 11 artistic collaborators were on board for the project.

The partnership has expanded in the seven subsequent months so that “The Soviet Arts Experience” now consists of more than 100 events in 25 venues, including over 50 concerts, 7 art exhibitions, 9 dance performances, 2 theater productions and numerous lectures and symposia. “I like to do interdisciplinary things, not just music,” says Quill. Well, this is doing interdisciplinary in spades!


Gidon Kremer

November events include a recital by Ani Aznavoorian, cello and Lera Auerbach, piano at the University of Chicago (November 5); Gidon Kremer’s Kremerata Baltica at Harris Theater (November 6) and another recital at Mandel Hall on November 19th. In addition, Anton Chekov’s “The Seagull” is being performed at Goodman Theater through November 14 and the University of Chicago Library features an exhibit of Gulag Art through December.

If I’ve aroused your curiosity about SAR, then go to the The Soviet Arts Experience” website.  It contains a list of program highlights, the roster of participating organizations and a calendar of events.

Quill’s background has equipped her for this logistical challenge. She studied music at Carnegie-Mellon University and interned at a Pittsburgh radio station. She then spent three years working for Herbert Breslin, who headed a well-known agency representing musical artists, followed by four years with the Aspen Music Festival in a consulting capacity.

She arrived at the University of Chicago in 2007 drawn, she says, by the potential offered by the position for artistic and scholarly collaboration. And she is already excited by a new challenge for collaboration. “I’m starting to think about the greater potential with the opening of the Logan Arts Center on campus in 2012.

In the meantime, Quill says the marketing heads of the participating organizations are brainstorming on ways to showcase the festival in an attention-grabbing way so the public will be more aware of the cultural richness currently underway. While  35,000 posters have been mailed, it will take a special event, like a Soviet Arts week of stellar performances, similar to the Chicago Humanities Festival weekends.

After all, to paraphrase the philosopher Immanuel Kant, if a festival falls in the forest and no one hears it, has it really happened? It would be a shame to waste such an inspired idea for want of an equally imaginative marketing campaign.

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