PostHeaderIcon The Russians are Coming

The Russians Are Here and More Are Coming

soviet arts exEvery new year is a time for looking ahead. Rather than write about performances after the fact, I intend to start off the year by spotlighting some noteworthy programs on the “Soviet Arts Experience” schedule that belong on your calendar. My next post will be about worthwhile exhibitions at several of Chicago’s smaller museums and galleries.

“The Soviet Arts Experience” is an ambitious showcase of more than 100 presentations at 26 venues that began last October and runs throughout the city through January 2012 by artists who created under the time of Politburo rule in the former Soviet Union. This means symphonies and chamber music by Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Stravinsky but also ballet scores, wartime propaganda posters and book art. All the events and contact info are at

This past weekend, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played concerts on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon of Prokofiev’s engaging Fifth Symphony. Prokofiev is one of the four Russian composers cited above who created powerful works of the 20th Century that are destined to be musical milestones.

Serge Prokofiev

Serge Prokofiev

Yet, unlike his counterparts, the CSO devotes much less concert time to Prokofiev’s music. For a long time, the label “popular composer” dogged Prokofiev for his score of “Peter and the Wolf”. Yet his pulsating Fifth Symphony, the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” and his virtuosic Piano Concertos #1 and #3 call for a serious reappraisal and more performances by the CSO.

The last weekend this month provides two important programs. On Saturday, January 29, the University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra has programmed a fascinating concert: several of Dimitri Shostakovich’s film scores, including those for “Hamlet”, “The Gadfly” and “King Lear.” Then on Sunday, be sure to be in the audience at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall to hear the Pacifica Quartet give the third of five programs traversing Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets.  The first two programs played to full houses and rousing receptions.

When the series’ final two concerts are over in February, they will be judged as signal musical events of the new century. For those not familiar with these works, like myself, their beauty and the Pacifica’s fervent playing will come as a revelation. If you can’t snag a seat at Ganz Hall on the 30th or February 13 and 27, you can wait for the CD release on Cedille Records later this year, hop a jet to New York’s Metropolitan Museum or ride the rails to Champaign where the quartet is repeating the series.

Swan lake - russian balletTwo other dance performances that should prove mesmerizing are the visit by the State Ballet Theatre of Russia at Auditorium Theatre on February 4 and 5 performing “Swan Lake” and the Eifman Ballet of  St. Petersburg doing Eifman’s version of “Don Quixote or Fantasies of a Madman” in April. Each company gives only three performances of these works. So, be alert so as not to miss them.

Golosa Choir

Golosa Choir

Just the thought of hearing the Golosa Russian Choir singing traditional Russian vocal music in the reverberant confines of Rockefeller Chapel gives me goose bumps. Clear your calendar to be in Hyde Park on Sunday April 3 at 11 a.m.

Not to be overlooked, three of Chicago’s art venues get into the act over the Summer and Fall with a series of exhibits highlighting Soviet posters, experimental propaganda images and book art.

The Art Institute kicks off the visual extravaganza on July 30 with a never-before-seen show of giant, strikingly designed World War II posters followed on August 30 with a show at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art that features the artistic process behind the creation of iconic Soviet propaganda imagery of the 1920s and 1930s.

Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art has two shows opening next Fall. One shows 160 post-Cold War political posters, cartoons, postcards and photomontages. The second is an examination of Soviet Book Art during the period 1910-17 by avant-garde artists entitled “Tango with Cows.”

There are many more riches impossible to include. Performances of Russian music by the CSO and Riccardo Muti, pianist EvgenyKissin and violist Yuri Bashmet in a joint recital, cellists Yo Yo Ma and Alisa Weilerstein. These artists’ appearances will be strongly marketed. I want to draw your attention to smaller, non-blockbuster events that may not be on your radar and may prove more satisfying.

The political Cold War is over. The Soviet Arts Experience seeks to smash a less conscious cultural “cold war” and expose us to a wider and deeper appreciation of works by Soviet artists in multiple mediums.  Bravo!

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