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The extensive Jewish influence on the cultural life of the Russian capital
MOSCOW, January 26, 2004. RIA Novosti political analyst Anatoly Korolev Scanning a bill of Moscow's theatres and concert halls, a theatregoer or a music-lover can see the extensive Jewish influence on the cultural life of the Russian capital. For example, a recent programme featured the premieres of "An Angel Came in from the Fog" at Alexander Shirvindt's Satire Theatre, the first performance of composer Giya Kancheli's "Liturgy" by the New Russia orchestra conducted by Yury Bashmet and a dance festival dedicated to choreographer Igor Moiseyev's birthday. In the 20th century, following the overthrow of the monarchy, the emigration of aristocrats and refusal of the national elite to co-operate with the new authorities, the Jewish intelligentsia, to a great extent, took charge of the task to create the chosen country of social equality, an example to mankind. It was the golden age of a new Russian-Jewish culture, during which some of Russia's greatest poets emerged, including, Osip Mandelshtam and Boris Pasternak. Their poetry revealed the perfection, pliancy and force of not Hebrew, but the Russian language. As the century developed, the relationship between the two cultures and their mutual attraction became evident in Anna Akhmatova's relations with her circle of young admirers, such as Joseph Brodsky, Anatoly Naiman, Yevgeny Rein and many others. Indeed, Brodsky went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The union of Jewish sensibility and Russian landscape painting was founded by the great Isaak Levitan in the 19th century. Following the Bolshevik revolution, these traditions were continued by sombre humour of Mark Chagall and the modern art of Oskar Rabin, the later of whom, glorified the Russian winter. However, perhaps music has been the most productive sphere of cultural interaction. The new world of proletarians, often illiterate, did not want lyrical stanzas, but music, especially, marches. The creators of Soviet songs and music, above all, the composers Isaak Dunayevsky, Eduard Kolmanovsky, Matvei Blanter, Mark Fradkin and Yan Frenkel, were the first to grasp this thirst. Songs performed by Leonid Utesov and Mark Bernes were the flesh and blood of socialism's onward march. The minor key of the Russian soul had long been yearning for this public joy of the march, the unity of May demonstrations and common self-devotion. This part of the Russian soul finally found expression in Jewish musical ideas and the spiritual excitement of Hava Nagila. Music became entwined in images of Soviet power, as the praises of achievements like the Dnieper hydroelectric power station were sang across the land. Communism was built in music like nowhere else. The decline of Soviet culture was a dramatic period both for the Russian and Jewish aspects of this cultural unity. On the one hand, the fall of idealism led to the biting humour of artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, while on the other hand, it produced Ilya Kabakov's grandiose installations on the downfall of the empire. These tragic features are also characteristic of the last years of the great Alfred Shnitke's work. A requiem to the failure to build an ideal society formed the backdrop to the modern cultural landscape in Russia. The new stage of co-existence of two cultures in one country has yet not produced any impressive examples, as artists, writers and poets are the victims of this new reality rather than conquerors. Moreover, the crisis epoch aggravated implicit contradictions, mainly in the sphere of values. When accepting the great Russian culture and blending with the Russian language, some Jews cannot accept Russia's past and tyrannical mentality of the idealist nation. It was unfelt in the epoch of idealism, but this is no longer the case. Besides, many Russian artists do not want to be "Russians" and Jews do not want to be "Jews". It adds to the tension in the still united culture. The task facing Russians and Jews today is to find their identities together.
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