Soviet Synthesizers: From Russia with LFO

[From Reverb]

When you think of countries that are important in the history of the synthesizer and electronic music, it’s easy to focus on the United States with famous inventors and manufacturers such as Moog, Buchla, Oberheim and many others. Or to think of Japan with well-known brands like Yamaha, Roland, Korg and even Casio. If you are up on your electronic music history, the Trautonium or theh Ondes Martenot might spring to mind as important early contributions by Germany and France respectively.

But you probably don’t think of Russia.

And yet Russians were involved in electronic music from the very earliest stages, and synthesizers were developed and widely used in the former Soviet Union – both officially and underground. And like most things Russian, the synthesizers of the Soviet Union were, for the most part, no mere imitators of their Western cousins, but had a style and sound all their own.

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A Composer and His Ideal Interpreter, Sviridov and Obraztsova

[From Epoch Times]

The Melodiya label has just released on CD (distributed by Naxos) a recital of two of the most important artists of the Soviet era: mezzo-soprano Elena Obraztsova (1939–2015) and composer Georgy Sviridov (1915–1998), who accompanies her on piano on all but one of the tracks. Titled simply with the names of the singer and composer, the album memorializes the significant collaboration between the two.

Obraztsova was born in Leningrad in 1939 and survived the siege of that city during World War II. Her father was sent to the front, while she remained with her mother.

After she won several voice competitions, Obraztsova made her Bolshoi debut in 1963 as Marina in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov.” Although still a student, she created a sensation and the following year went on tours in Japan and Italy, where she sang at La Scala opera house. She was immediately hailed as an international star and had a long career at the Bolshoi and opera houses throughout the rest of the world.

Obraztsova and Placido Domingo in Carmen


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Ivan’s Childhood: A film master’s first steps; reappraising Tarkovsky

[from The Arts Desk website]

IC-horse_0The 30th anniversary of the death of Andrei Tarkovsky – the great Russian director died just before the end of 1986, on December 29, in Paris – will surely guarantee that his remarkable body of work receives new attention, and this month distributor Artificial Eye launches a programme, Sculpting Time, which will see new digitally restored versions of his seven films being re-released around the country. Tarkovsky is certainly not a figure whose reputation has ever fallen away, but it’s as appropriate a moment as any to reconsider his extraordinary talent, not least with the images of his work brought back to their true visual magic.

Its initial offering is, appropriately, Tarkovsky’s first full-length film, Ivan’s Childhoodfrom 1962, the work in which the remarkable nature of his talent first shone through. Part of its fascination lies in appreciating the context from which the director emerged, the elements of surrounding convention against which he would strain throughout his short life (he was only 54 when he died). The Great Patriotic War film was – and remains to this day – an almost inexhaustible genre for Russian-Soviet cinema, and the climate of the Khrushchev thaw that had begun in the mid-1950s was allowing for much more personal interpretations of its subject matter, bringing in a new level of humanisation.

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A passion for Schnittke

[From Gramophone]

The violinist Roman Mints introduces his new album of Schnittke’s complete music for violin and piano

The first time I heard Alfred Schnittke’s music was at children’s music school: it was his Suite in the Old Style, a fairly easy piece to play and understand, notably the Minuet. I remember that one of the teachers, on hearing me play the Minuet, said: ‘See, he can write normal music!’ At that time I didn’t know what he meant, but a few years later, when I began to take an interest in dissonant music, the Soviet record label Melodiya started to release LPs of Schnittke’s symphonies conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. I bought these records, my mother bought them, and I was also given them as birthday presents by my schoolmates. It never occurred to them that, as someone interested in this music, I might already have them. So I wound up with several copies of each record, and in turn gave them to my friends. People began to believe that Schnittke was my favourite composer. And even though that isn’t exactly true, I do still have a particular connection to his music. Although I stopped buying records of his music long ago, I have always found it easy to play – for me it is simple and clear, and it speaks my language.

Coming to London in 1994, I quite coincidentally discovered a fellow spirit in my professor, Felix Andrievsky, who had liked Schnittke’s music from his youth and was one of the first (besides its dedicatee Mark Lubotsky) to play his Sonata No 1. I studied all three sonatas, among other works, in Andrievsky’s class. I had read some studies of Schnittke as well as a couple of books of conversations where he discussed his music. But these were mostly about structural and other technical details, while Andrievsky was teaching me to think in terms of imagery. Unlike many other composers’ music, Schnittke’s brings to mind very definite images, a result I think of how much work he did for cinema. Naturally I got much more out of my lessons with Andrievsky than all the theoretical tomes I read, and I learned to hear the simple, graspable emotions in this music.


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7 Andrei Tarkovsky films to be shown in the UK

[From the website Russia beyond the Headlines]

“To me he is God,” says Lars von Trier about the Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky. In an interview with the magazine Time Out London, von Trier says he has seen Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror 20 times.

Beginning on May 20 Brits will have a chance to watch The Mirror, as well as another six Tarkovsky masterpieces in cinemas across the UK.

The film program is called, Andrei Tarkovsky: Sculpting Time, and it will show digital restorations of the legendary Russian auteur’s films. The screenings, as well as new posters and trailers for the movies, were prepared by Curzon Artificial Eye, a British cinema company that is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary.

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Ivan’s Childhood, film review: ‘The most lyrical war movie ever made pristinely restored’

[From The Independent]

ivan-childhoodTarkovsky’s debut feature (re-released in a pristine newly restored version) is surely the most lyrical war movie ever made. It is set at a brutal and bloody moment in the Second World War.

Its main characters have all suffered devastating personal losses as the Soviet army tries to repel the Nazi invasion – and yet the film is a coming of age story which deals with young love and in which characters still have time to discuss art and books and to listen to music.

The film opens in magical fashion with a sun-drenched dream sequence in which the 12 year old Ivan is shown as a golden haired boy in a sunny, pastoral setting, delighting in the natural world and with his mother doting on him.

The reality, when he awakens, is that he’s a desperate kid, crawling through barbed wire-strewn swamps and trying to stay alive in a war zone.

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Posters of City Life in a Fading USSR

[From, CityLab  website]

8c2e44cacEven in the final years of the Soviet Union, the day-to-day life of an average person in the communist state remained a mystery to curious Americans. In 1989, a poster show helped fill in the gaps.

In the mid-1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to acknowledge the country’s economic limitations and poor living standards, ushering in economic reforms (“perestroika”) and government openness (“glasnost”). A new era of relative transparency meant acknowledging the ills of urban life, including housing shortages, pollution, and low birthrates. The Soviet government, as it always did, used posters to share their new message. But this time, the posters also made their way into the United States.

Poster Art of the Soviet Union: A Window Into Soviet Life, was assembled by the San Diego chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) in 1989. After closing in 1990, the show made its way to AIGA chapters around the country from Seattle to Atlanta.

It was put together by Ron Miriello, a founding board member of AIGA San Diego. Through a former professor of his, Miriello was able to coordinate with Oleg Savostiuk, the secretary general of the Union of Soviet Artists at the time. Savostiuk secured authorization to have the posters exhibited, curated the show, and personally appeared at its opening.

“There was a giddy excitement about the West getting to know Russia as a friend rather than a foe,” says Miriello. “Today, in the era of Putin, we might look back on this time as a lost opportunity.”

[The poster reads: “Family! Let there be happiness in it, and let work, the raising of children, love, and peace in your home contribute to it!” The poster acknowledges not only a housing shortage across the USSR’s cities but that urban industrial life is an obstacle toward creating a nurturing home environment. Under Perestroika, the government gave constitutional protections to families for the first time, improved maternity benefits, and increased subsidies for low-income families. (Leshunova, date unknown)]

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Lenin Lab: the team keeping the first Soviet leader embalmed

[From The Guardian]

2000He lies in a glass sarcophagus, his reddish moustache trimmed and his hands resting on his thighs. Dressed in an austere black suit, Vladimir Lenin, the first Soviet leader, looks at first to be a waxwork.

Yet this is in fact the preserved body of a man who died 92 years ago. If carefully monitored and re-embalmed regularly, scientists believe he can last in this state for centuries more.

But it might get expensive. Last month, the Federal Guard Service – which looks after all grounds near the Kremlin, including the mausoleum Lenin is kept in – announced for the first time that the costs for the “medical and biological works to maintain Lenin’s body” would amount to 13 million roubles ($197,000) in 2016.

When Lenin died in January 1924, no one planned to preserve his body for quite this long. In fact, the renowned pathologist, Alexei Abrikosov, who performed the autopsy on the body, cut its major arteries. “Later he would say that if he had known they would embalm the body, he wouldn’t have done it,” says Alexei Yurchak, professor of social anthropology at the University of California. “The blood-vascular system could have been used to deliver embalming chemicals to the tissue.”

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Don’t forget how the Soviet Union saved the world from Hitler

Interesting take on different imaginations of the Second World War.

[From The Washington Post]


In the Western popular imagination — particularly the American one — World War II is a conflict we won. It was fought on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima, through the rubble of recaptured French towns and capped by sepia-toned scenes of joy and young love in New York. It was a victory shaped by the steeliness of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the moral fiber of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the awesome power of an atomic bomb.

But that narrative shifts dramatically when you go to Russia, where World War II is called the Great Patriotic War and is remembered in a vastly different light.

On May 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin will play host to one of Moscow’s largest ever military paradesto mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. More than 16,000 troops will participate, as well 140 aircraft and 190 armored vehicles, including the debut of Russia’s brand new next-generation tank.

It’s a grand moment, but few of the world’s major leaders will be in attendance. The heads of state of India and China will look on, but not many among their Western counterparts. That is a reflection of the tense geopolitical present, with Putin’s relations with the West having turned frosty after a year of Russian meddling in Ukraine. When Russia’s T-14 Armata tank broke down at a parade rehearsal on Thursday, the snickering could be heard across Western media.

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