Sofi Oksanen: ‘We know about British colonialism. Russian colonialism is not well known’

[From The Guardian]

For a Finnish writer to be translated into English is an unusual event; over the last decade, only 40 or 50 Finnish novels have appeared in the US and UK – a “strange” state of affairs, according to Sofi Oksanen. But Oksanen isn’t merely a Finnish writer who has broken through. The author of Purge (2008), which sold over a million copies, is an international publishing sensation, frequently likened to Stieg Larsson. Only one Finnish author outsells her, Oksanen jokes: the late Tove Jansson, creator of the lovable, bohemian Moomin family.

She’s also won more awards than any other contemporary Finnish author. Her fiction has scooped the European book prize, the prestigious Swedish Academy Nordic prize and the French Prix Femina. When her fourth novel, When the Doves Disappeared, came out in Finland and Sweden in 2012, it shot straight to No 1; it will be published in 29 countries around the world, including the UK next month.

Like Purge, its theme is the occupation of Estonia – Oksanen has a Finnish father and an Estonian mother – during and after the second world war. The novel’s title refers to German soldiers who snared and ate pigeons in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, during wartime, and to the divergent twin fates of collaborators and resisters. (The country was occupied by the Soviet Red Army, then the Nazis, then the USSR again.)

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Vasily Petrenko on Conducting, Soviet Russia, and Soccer

[From the San Francisco Classical Voice]

Springtime has brought accolades to Russian-born conductor Vasily Petrenko and the ensembles he now leads in the West. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra was shortlisted for the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Ensemble award, while Petrenko himself was shortlisted for his performance as Liverpool’s chief conductor, a post he assumed in 2009. A week later, the Liverpool ensemble was nominated for a BBC Music Magazine Award in the Orchestral category, lauding its Warner Classics recording, under Petrenko’s baton, of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 1. The magazine’s readers also nominated the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, of which Petrenko became chief conductor in 2013, in the Concerto category for an Orfeo recording of the music of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski.

Petrenko, who now lives with his wife and son just south of Liverpool, also serves as principal guest conductor of the Mikhailovsky Theatre in his native St. Petersburg, where he was trained at the Capella Boys Music School and the (then-named) Rimsky-Korsakov Leningrad Conservatory, Russia’s oldest. Now 38, Petrenko has taken on other symphonic and operatic assignments across the globe, and last year completed a cycle of recordings of the symphonies of Shostakovich for Naxos Records. The program for his guest spot with the San Francisco Symphony this week includes that composer’s 12th Symphony (The Year of 1917), Barber’s Overture to The School for Scandal, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Chinese pianist Sa Chen. Petrenko spoke by phone with SFCV during a tour stop in St. Louis last week.

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How do you make a film about a dictator?

[From The New Statesman]

hqdefault-2Beyond propaganda, trying to get under the skin of despots and dictators is a near-impossible task.

Until very recently filmmaking was so expensive and logistically difficult an undertaking that it was out reach for most people, which made it the domain largely of corporate and industrial interests. Until not long before that – ie, the advent of VCRs – the distribution and exhibition of films was closely restricted, sometimes by censorious forces though more often by commercial ones. Not surprisingly, then, it has always had a propaganda appeal and usefulness, for politicians and leaders of all stripes, both democratic and otherwise. The Bolsheviks were the first to harness the cinema to this end and, in the silent era at least, managed to produce probably the most artistically brilliant propaganda films of all time. In World War II, Hitchcock, Hawks, Capra and Humphrey Jennings were among various directors on the Allied side who lent their hand to propaganda work.

During peacetime western democracies have generally stepped back from film production efforts and allowed Hollywood and other national cinemas to craft an obliging national narrative, which the studios were only too happy to do. In recent decades, as David Sirota’s history of 1980s US pop culture Back to Our Future documents, the Pentagon has taken a much more hands-on approach to “soft propaganda” efforts, actively providing military hardware to Hollywood films if the script meets the military’s approval – a far cry from the days when Francis Ford Coppola turned to Ferdinand Marcos to hire helicopters and other props for Apocalypse Now, something for which Coppola has always been given a surprisingly easy ride by western liberals.

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Funked Up East: The Groovy Side of The Iron Curtain

[From Up North]

FunkedUpEast_VagifMustafaZadehJazzCompositionscoverartIt’s not a rare thing to be into back catalogue music. To bring it closer to the wider audience, however, is a noteworthy mission. As with every totalitarian regime, there’s mysticism in what went on behind the Iron Curtain. A music man in his own right, Misha Panfilov diffuses some of the misconceptions using a YouTube channel Funked Up East dedicated to the funky universe of sounds from the Soviet Union.

As a recovering vinyl junkie, he’s more selective than ever in what he buys and shares with his rapidly growing subscribers on Youtube. So when Misha isn’t working on the Estonian jazz-funk band Estrada Orchestra, or composing library music for a yet unreleased movie, he uses the time to dig around, rip and upload. In the following interview we touch on this positive addiction, on the legendary Russian record label Melodiya, the reissue culture and talk about life in the USSR in general.

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Russian town of Oryol trapped in Soviet past

Slightly skewed coverage, but interesting.

[From BBC News Website]

On a small stage in a community hall, still grandly called a Palace of Culture, a powerfully built lady belts out an old Russian gypsy ballad.

Then a choir of podgy teenage girls troops out, all dressed in sky-blue party frocks, like something out of the 1950s.

The mostly elderly spectators, sitting in their raincoats on wooden chairs, listen attentively.

It is a fitting mid-afternoon concert to find in Oryol, a Russian provincial town which prides itself on its cultural heritage, and its links to an extraordinary number of Russian authors.

Ivan Turgenev, the 19th-Century Russian novelist of elegant love stories, came from here. So did Ivan Bunin, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. So did the ingenious storyteller Nikolai Leskov, the poets Tyutchev and Fet, the short story writer Leonid Andreev…

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Polish politician asks why philharmonic orchestra plays Russian music

[From Radio Poland]

A councillor in Poland’s third-largest city has tabled a formal inquiry as to why the Łódź Philharmonics play music by Russian composers.

The head of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) caucus in the city council, Piotr Adamczyk is in particular concerned about Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergey Prokofiev.

“Is it quite certain that the Łódź public want to listen to the music of one composer, namely D. Shostakovich and his peculiar pro-Soviet music (XII Symphony – for Lenin, New Babylon – soundtrack to the film about a female Paris Commune activist) or S. Prokofiev – “Aleksander Nevskiy”,” he asked.

The response was delivered by the head of the Łódź region administration, Witold Stępień of the governing Civic Platform (PO).

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