Posts in Shorter Writings
"125 Years of Prokofiev"

The Times Literary Supplement
By Simon Morrison - July 20, 2016

The Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared 2016 to be the “Prokofiev Year” in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Let’s hope it proves better for Prokofiev’s legacy than did 2014, when the international airport named after him in Donetsk, Ukraine, was blown to smithereens in the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and the pro-Russian separatists of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Three letters of Prokofiev’s name were left visible in the rubble: “ROK”, which uncannily spells “fate” in Russian. The centennial of the composer’s birth in 1991 also had its troubles...

What The Candidates' Rally Music Says About Them
 

Time.com
By Simon Morrison - May 25, 2016

Though loath to join the political snarkatariat, I feel compelled (as a musicologist specializing in cultural politics) to comment on music in the US presidential election. Each campaign has a playlist that presumably reflects something about the candidate and the voters he or she is courting; after all, the music we love at once mirrors our deepest desires and projects our individual as well as collective imaginings... 

Scriabin: The spirit ascends

The Times Literary Supplement
By Simon Morrison - November 18, 2015

The composer and the ‘mystic’ chord
It’s a Scriabin year, the centenary of his untimely death. Hence the rush to celebrate, if not reassess, the composer’s legacy. This autumn, families in Moscow were invited to visit the Alexander Scriabin Memorial Museum on Saturdays and Sundays, with “Night in the Museum” scheduled for Thursdays. The museum also welcomed a host of academics to a scholarly conference earlier this year. Like the family fare, the programme offered a tour through Scriabin’s life and work – without delving too deeply into the sordidness of his personal life (he was accused of rape, more than once) or his occult aesthetics.

"The Spirit Ascends"
 

The Times Literary Supplement
By Simon Morrison - November 18, 2015

It’s a Scriabin year, the centenary of his untimely death. Hence the rush to celebrate, if not reassess, the composer’s legacy. This autumn, families in ­Moscow were invited to visit the Alexander Scriabin Memorial Museum on Saturdays and Sundays, with “Night in the Museum” scheduled for Thursdays. The museum also welcomed a host of academics to a scholarly conference earlier this year. Like the family fare, the programme offered a tour through Scriabin’s life and work – without delving too deeply into the...

"Emperor Putin’s War on the Truth"
 

The New York Times
The Opinion Pages
By Simon Morrison - October 2, 2014
 

PRINCETON, N.J. — I spent most of the summer in Moscow, treading past kiosks stocked with T-shirts that read, essentially, “Bring on the sanctions.” In retaliation for financial constraints imposed by Washington and Brussels for Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine, which make foreign check card purchases deeply problematic, the Russian prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, has barred the import of a wide range of American and European foods. The McDonald’s restaurant on Pushkin Square has been closed “for technical reasons.” And at the otherwise posh Bakhetle supermarket two teenage boys took pictures of Oreos; they had apparently been tasked with reporting the infiltration of enemy trans-fats to the authorities...

"The Bolshoi’s Spinning Dance of Power"
 
 Credit: Christina Hagerfors

The New York Times
The Opinion Pages
By Simon Morrison - November 25, 2013
 

Moscow’s renowned Bolshoi Theater is in crisis. Last January, Sergei Filin, the artistic director of the Bolshoi, was almost blinded when distilled car battery acid was thrown in his face outside of his apartment. Pavel Dmitrichenko, a mercurial soloist who harbored a grudge against Filin for failing to cast his ballerina girlfriend in choice roles, confessed to organizing the assault — then recanted. His trial is now underway, but it seems a foregone conclusion that he will be convicted and sentenced to a dozen or more years in the penal colonies...

"Yet More Tales from the Bolshoi"
 

London Review of Books Blog
By Simon Morrison - July 10, 2013

On Monday, Anatoly Iksanov, the besieged general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, was forced to resign. It has been speculated in Moscow that his departure was hastened by Yuri Grigorovich, the octogenarian éminence grise of the Russian dance scene, who had not to this point got involved. The intervention was long overdue, in the opinion of Iksanov’s harshest critics, who have...

"More Tales from the Bolshoi"
 

London Review of Books
Vol. 35, No. 13
By Simon Morrison - July 4, 2013

On 19 March, Anatoly Iksanov, the general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, held a press conference in Moscow to announce a month-long festival to celebrate the centenary of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. His aim was to reclaim the ballet for the nation that inspired it. (It had its premiere in Paris in 1913.) Most of the journalists who cleared the metal detectors were familiar faces trusted by the Bolshoi’s administration. Iksanov introduced the choreographers of the season’s four new productions, then fell silent. In February the avant-garde choreographer Wayne McGregor, who had been due to put together an entirely new production of The Rite of Spring, suddenly pulled out, leaving the Bolshoi scrambling to find a replacement. McGregor had received the commission in 2009; the concept was settled and the set designed. He hasn’t publicly explained his withdrawal, although it’s generally assumed that... 

"The Bolshoi’s Latest Act"
 
 AP Photo  People watching the re-opening of the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow, October 28, 2011

The New York Times Review of Books
By Simon Morrison - November 12, 2011


On July 1, 2005, just before it closed for renovation, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater staged a final performance of two Russian classics: Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake and Musorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov. Like the Bolshoi itself, these two works have, over the course of their long histories, accrued heavy political baggage. The ballet was shown on state television during the failed Soviet coup d’état of 1991. And the opera, which pits an illegitimate czar against a pretender to the throne, found nightmarish parallel in the struggle for control between Gorbachev and Yeltsin during the eerie final months of Soviet power...