Monday, January 12, 2009

Real Politics

Mark Swed has a review of Arvo Pärt's new Symphony No. 4, "Los Angeles," which had been mentioned here before due to Universal Edition's unprecedented free online publication of the score.  

Swed notes that the score is dedicated to the imprisoned Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky and reports that "The composer called Khodorkovsky a great man and said Russia would be a better country had the oligarch, once Russia’s wealthiest man, become its leader."  

I haven't spent enough time with the score to comment fairly about the music — though I did notice a number of features in common with the late works of quite a different composer, Robert Erickson — and my knowledge (indeed, everyones' knowledge) of the Khodorkovsky case is limited, but the information I do have strongly suggests that the dedication displays some real courage.  

Given the recent trend for the interests of the Russian state and of cultural activities within Russia to become more closely connected, indeed to a degree unknown since the end of the Soviet Union, one must assume that Pärt's dedication will not faciliate performances in Russia, nor by orchestras or conductors closely identified with the Russian state.  That is a rare and gutsy move for a composer in these apolitical days.


Anonymous said...

We think it is tremendously important that Arvo Pärt is bringing attention to the plight of Mikhail Khodorkovsky within the arts community - this individual has spent more than five years in a Siberian gulag under fabricated charges and a rigged trial - a judicial process denounced by the European Parliament, European Court of Human Rights, and many other organizations as politically motivated.

To learn more about the case, please visit the Robert Amsterdam blog. You can find what Anna Politkovskaya had to say about him:

Mario Vargas Llosa:

Andre Glucksmann:

Hans-Gert Pöttering

Herve Mariton:

Serge Schmemann:

Milan Horacek:

Mark Medish:

and Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and John McCain:

Daniel Wolf said...


thank you for the links. The more that I read about this case, the more frustrating it becomes. There is simply not enough good, raw, information available about it, and what is available is, in sum, very ambiguous, providing plenty of rationale for reservations towards both Khodorkovsky and the Kremlin, but ultimately more against the Kremlin for creating such an environment. Nevertheless, I remain impressed that Pärt was willing to stick his neck out and make the dedication.

Anonymous said...

I've never found interest in looking at music with political glasses. However earnest the (political) message may be within a piece, it always seems to get lost in the notes. One could certainly read up on the history or intentions of a composer's work, but I think many people don't care to know of it and would rather just listen. I, for one, am glad for such neglect.

l'art pour l'art

Daniel Wolf said...


there is absolutely no indication that the music in question has a political message, even a covert one, but the dedication on the score will play out in a real political environment, the one in which decisions are made about what music gets played and what not.

Anonymous said...

Is it not through the medium of music that Pärt is bringing up this message? Granted, there are no lyrics to the piece - or even spoken words, for that matter - one would use to obtain a concrete message. Yet, the simple mention of a (now political) figure in dedication is not without an obvious message of political denotation.

However, in keeping with your latest comment, I feel it's entirely possible that many are choosing to pay attention to this in lieu of the music, which may say something of their opinion of the piece. (Not that I could actually stop an L.A. Times critic from giving me his opinion, mind you!)