Music and Vision homepage Jenna Orkin: Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death - From the heights of greatness (the Juilliard School; musicians Rosalyn Tureck and Nadia Boulanger) via way-ward paths to the depths of wickedness these reminiscences will entertain and enlighten.

 

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On BBC Radio 3, January 1984, noted conductor Rudolf Barshai described Testimony as 'true -- the authentic voice of Shostakovich, but not the whole story'.

And on 15 December 1979: 'There is nothing which makes me doubt at all the authenticity of Testimony.' -- 'Leningrad'-born violinist Mark Lubotsky

Rostislav Dubinsky, first violin of the Borodin Quartet from its founding in 1945 until 1976, wrote of musical life in the USSR in Stormy Applause, a memoir -- published 1989. As bitter as (Volkov's) Testimony is, it tells much the same story from a different angle. 'Yet its insight into the anti-semitism, professional corruption, political arm-twisting, and general fear which permeated the Soviet cultural scene during the period it describes (1930/2-1975) offers a vital complement to the parallel narrative in Testimony', says Dubinsky. 'It's easy to be brave when there's no menace, but what kind of courage must it take when you risk your life for the truth?'

As Barshai, the LPO and John Shirley Quirk (in colour) perform the 13th (Babi Yar) Symphony, yet again Palmer brings us a melange of recapitulated sequences, while the composer recalls those fruitful hounded years. 'Can't have music where we can't reach', he grimaces. His conclusion -- 'My contract is with the living -- I must live to honor that.'

Ben Kingsley as the elderly Shostakovich. Screenshot © 1987 Isolde Films
Ben Kingsley as the elderly Shostakovich. Screenshot © 1987 Isolde Films

Palmer's on-screen cinema editor, actor Murray Melvin, features in a sequence where Shostakovich agrees to alter a propagandist film of Stalin (Koba), his alias taken from the name of a famous Georgian outlaw. 'I'll have to re-write the book; director's problem' the editor insists. 'You must change the score, composer's problem'. Says Shostakovich: 'I'll re-write it tonight'. 'All of it?' asks 'editor' Melvin in astonishment. Dmitri answers: 'I'm a professional -- of the Petersburg school'.

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Copyright © 26 August 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand

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