<< -- 2 -- Gordon Rumson WHIRLWIND OF ACTIVITY
During the first twenty years of the century Siloti was in Russia working to establish himself and promote music he thought important. He thought a great deal was important and he had almost unerring taste.
He was a whirlwind of activity and organized a series of concerts in St Petersburg that must simply stand as one of the greatest achievements in music-making. Siloti arranged every detail (with his family's help), conducted, and drew such a fabulous array of talent as to be unparalleled. He presented Casals (many times), Cortot, Grainger, Pugno, D'Albert, Fauré, Schoenberg (yes, Schoenberg!), Reger, Ysaÿe and of course the very best Russian performers and composers of the time in a series of concerts of colossal variety. I do not exaggerate. Barber's listing of the programmes (orchestral, plus chamber and solo) spans a hundred (!) pages of the book. Siloti promoted music by Sibelius, Elgar and Stravinsky to name just a few. Indeed, modern concert series should study Siloti's methods in detail for they could learn a great deal of what a concert season should be.
The Great War undercut the concert series, and then Russian Revolution demolished Siloti's fortune (he had married into wealth). When Siloti and family escaped to the West they arrived with next to nothing. Here is where the tragedy begins, for Siloti had worked hard to establish himself in Russia and almost succeeded; the exile in the West was not grounded in a fame that could be translated into position, concerts or success. Further, his age was against him. He was already too old to undertake the demanding schedule of work that Rachmaninoff did at the same time to become a pianist again and 'make a big splash'.
But more crucially, those 'big splash days' were just about over. The nineteenth century culture that had nourished pianists was destroyed by the Great War and Siloti, an aristocrat through and through, could never quite adjust to the Western mercantile system. Nor was that system particularly interested in him. Styles had changed drastically. The collapse of the economy in 1929 (including the collapse of the piano industry itself) did much to compound the problem. Eventually Siloti faded into teaching at Juilliard (is that even possible? Unfortunately, yes). He did not attract the best students and gave fewer and fewer concerts.
Further, the style of Siloti's artistic life was utterly uncongenial to the post-1914 era and especially the American world. Siloti, like so many nineteenth century artists, functioned with the belief (implicit to be sure) that one's artistic growth benefited and flourished just because one breathed the same air as other great artists. Thus, circles, friendships, dinner parties, close and detailed letter writing all contributed to bringing the artists together into an electric field of activity that enlivened each person's creativity.
Copyright © 22 November 2003
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada