The University Record, January 17, 1994

Conference, concerts focus on life, work of Shostakovich

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

A multi-media tribute to 20th-century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich will take place at the U-M Jan. 25–30, with the world-renowned Borodin String Quartet performing the complete Shostakovich String Quartet Cycle over five consecutive nights.

The concerts are presented by the University Musical Society (UMS), in conjunction with a conference on the life and works of Shostakovich, organized by the Center for Russian and East European Studies (CREES), and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature. Exhibits of Shostakovich memorabilia and of Soviet cultural artifacts from the 1920s round out the event, also sponsored by the Museum of Art.

“Our enthusiasm for this fusion of scholarship and performance is mirrored in the huge response we have had from scholars, performers, media and Shostakovich devotees here and abroad,” says Kenneth C. Fischer, UMS executive director.

The idea for the collaboration began three years ago when the Borodin String Quartet, on one of its extensive tours outside its Moscow home, played to a highly appreciative Ann Arbor audience. According to UMS artistic director Michael Kondziolka, the extraordinary level of interest from colleagues in the University community, combined with generous support from the commercial sector, propelled the endeavor forward.

“One of the intellectually exhilarating consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union is the possibility of achieving a more authentic understanding of 20th-century history,” says Jane Burbank, director of CREES and an associate professor of history. “Until now, the history of Soviet culture and politics has been distorted by lack of information as well as the imposition of inappropriate stereotypes to explain artistic creativity in the USSR. By bringing together scholars from both Russia and the West, as well as performing artists and people from the intellectual milieu in which Shostakovich lived, the Shostakovich Conference will make a fresh and profound contribution to the rewriting of the history of culture in the Soviet period.”

“The historic occasion of the Borodin String Quartet’s visit presents an ideal opportunity for scholars and musicians to undertake a major review of the life and works of one of the 20th century’s greatest composers,” says conference director Rosamund Bartlett, assistant professor of Russian literature.

“As one of the most fascinating cultural figures of his time, whose music raises crucial questions as to the relation between art and society, Shostakovich’s work has been subject to much political speculation, not all of which has been of value,” Bartlett says. “Despite his abiding popularity and august stature, the composer to this day remains an elusive and complex figure, whose colossal significance has yet to be adequately assessed. It is the aim of this conference to establish an authentic picture of Shostakovich’s oeuvre and his role in the cultural life of his era.”

“Archive and Avant-Garde: Two Exhibitions” Jan. 25–Feb. 4 in the Rackham West Gallery offer a rare view of Shostakovich’s life in the context of the cultural milieu that shaped it. An array of photographs, caricatures, posters and other materials illustrate the extraordinary events of the composer’s life and reveal how the vicissitudes of living and working under tyranny affected his evolution as a composer. A colorful ensemble of sheet music reveals the diversity of Soviet visual and musical culture of the 1920s.

The celebration begins with a reception at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 in Rackham Assembly Hall. At 7 p.m., Shostakovich biographer Laurel Fay delivers the Philips Educational Presentation, followed at 8 p.m. by the first Borodin String Quartet Concert, Quartets Nos. 2, 1 and 3.

The conference, “Shostakovich: The Man and His Age, 1906–1975,” opens at 4 p.m. Jan. 27, with Richard Taruskin, University of California, Berkeley, delivering the keynote address, “Music as Autobiography.”

Major contributors include the Michigan Humanities Council, National Endowment for the Humanities, Kathleen G. Charla Associates, Edward Surovell Co. Realtors, and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

For information about conference registration and concert tickets, call 764-2538. For details on conference programs, call 764-0351.