„Musical Rebel Plays by New Rules”

The Moscow Times, November 6, 2003
By John Freedman
Is there anything new under the sun? It is a question that Alexander Bakshi, one of Russia?s most innovative composers, has difficulty answering even as he repeatedly pushes his art into, uh, new territory. Bakshi is currently in the spotlight as the man behind the First Moscow International Theater of Sound Festival which opens Sunday and Monday and runs through November 29 at various venues, small and large. Together with his wife Lyudmila Bakshi, a musicologist and soprano who has been the first performer of many of her husband?s compositions, Bakshi has brought together an impressive array of composers, theater directors, musicians, choreographers and dancers from Russia and abroad — Gidon Kremer from Lithuania; Philip Glass from the United States; Heiner Goebbels from Germany; Robert Sturua and Gia Kancheli from Georgia; Vladimir Martynov and Ilya Epelbaum from Russia. All will be up to the unusual as they present works that defy conventional description. Bakshi will unveil two newly created works straddling traditional generic boundaries. His “Dialogue on Gogol?s ?The Overcoat?,“ written for soloists, string orchestra, percussion and a film screen, was created with the animated film director Yury Norshtein. His “From the Red Book“ is a performance piece composed expressly for the pianist Alexei Lyubimov and which has been designed and directed by Epelbaum, the unorthodox founder of Moscow?s celebrated Ten, or Shadow, Theater. “The word ?new? means nothing,” Bakshi says as he tries to describe what the phrase „theater of sound” means. „I could have called it the New Musical Theater Festival just as easily. But then there would have been confusion with such terms as ?musicals,? ?opera? and the like. So, I chose a name, theater of sound, which clearly indicates a fundamental connection between theater and music.” The notion of the theater of sound is something Bakshi has been developing for over 20 years. His greatest successes have come in the last decade, including renowned collaborations with the theater directors Valery Fokin and Kama Ginkas. Fokin?s productions of “A Hotel Room in the Town of N,“ based on the prose of Gogol, and “Metamorphosis,” based on Franz Kafka?s story, have traveled the world to acclaim, while Ginkas? production of „The Polyphony of the World” during the International Theater Olympics in Moscow in 2001 was a litmus test for critical sensitivity. This work of extraordinary scope and depth starring 100 musicians and actors from over a dozen countries was hailed by some as groundbreaking and dismissed by others as incomprehensible. “The Polyphony of the World” certainly did not mark Bakshi?s first run-in with the critics. «Back in the 1980s at the Moscow Conservatory I first demonstrated a piece for percussion, during which a man came out on stage and sawed a block of wood,» he says. “This was both an action and a specific sound. A huge scandal ensued. One enraged newspaper critic demanded to know how I could have dared to defame the small hall of the Moscow Conservatory where the great Svyatoslav Richter and David Oistrakh had performed.“ For Bakshi, the musician has always been an actor, while in his works he invariably uses actors as musicians. It may confuse drama critics and infuriate music critics, but it has been the basis of some of the most memorable theatrical events in Moscow in recent times. Moreover, the refusal of composers, musicians and theater artists to be pigeon-holed by the usual genres is increasingly evident throughout the world. Kremer, arguably the top living violin virtuoso and one of the stars of „The Polyphony of the World,” has included aspects of theater in his performances ever since forming the Kremerata Baltica ensemble in 1996. He will display that quality again when officially opening the festival Monday at MMDM at 7 p.m. with an evening divided into segments titled “Bachiana“ and “CineTheater.“ Aside from “Dialogue on Gogol?s ?The Overcoat?,” this second section will include Michael Nyman?s „Trysting Fields” and Kancheli?s „Daneliada,” a musical portrait of the popular film director Georgy Daneliya. Setting the stage for the festival, there will be a round table discussion on the topic of theater and music on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Russian Dom Narodnogo Tvorchestva. It will feature an appearance by Goebbels, who will also present a video showing of his production of “Black on White” following the round table and again at 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Dom Cultural Center. “Heiner Goebbels is a signpost for our time,“ Bakshi declares. “He is a fantastic figure; a great theater director and a first-rate composer all in one. We all dream of creating a musical theater and he has done it with his Moderne Ensemble in a way that is capable of breaking through to the public consciousness. He is one of those whose theater of music exists independently of opera and ballet.” A highlight of the festival should be Kancheli?s „Styx,” which plays at MMDM on November 19 and 20. This is a symphonic work that has been shaped as a theater piece for 35 actors by Sturua, one of the world?s top directors. “There is not a single word in this production; no ballet, no pantomime, no literary scenario,“ comments Bakshi. “It is an attempt to create a non-literary theater of myth.” The mix of genres will be evident in each of the festival?s events. „The World is a Stage,” playing Wednesday at the Dom Kompozitorov, is a theatrical interpretation of various composers? works by Ginkas?s directing students at the Moscow Art Theater School. The cutting-edge Dom Center will host several productions, including «10 Transparent Half-Moons» by choreographer Sasha Pepelyayev on Wednesday and Thursday; the Po. v.s.tantsy dance theater?s “A and Everyone” on November 14; and Martynov?s “The Prayer of the Mother of God,” performed by Tatyana Grindenko?s Opus Post ensemble on November 16. According to Bakshi, Pepelyayev and Albert Albert of Po. v.s.tantsy are among those who are “searching for a dance theater that is not rooted in traditional ballet.“ „From the Red Book,” playing November 23 at MMDM and the 24th and 25th at the Meyerhold Center, is the result of Bakshi?s fascination with aspects of culture that have become marginalized or even extinct. “I include the music of dying or dead nations in ?Red Book?,“ he explains. „They are all part of our Russian cultural heritage and if we lose them, we risk losing our culture as a whole.” It will feature a piano soloist taking on acting duties, while six actors participate in the making of the music as two screens displaying different video messages work in the background. The festival concludes with appearances by the renowned composer and conductor Glass. He will conduct a master class at the Dom Center on November 27 and will preside over performances of his “Koyaanisqatsi,“ a work conceived as existing in „dialogue with a film screen,” on November 28 and 29 at MMDM. “This is not your usual music for film,“ comments Bakshi. „It is a live orchestra playing and responding to images on a screen. It is something else entirely.” ***The First Moscow International Theater of Sound Festival officially opens Monday following preliminary events that take place on Sunday. For a complete record of events, venues and times, see the Concerts, Dance and Theater listings.***

John Freedman, 6-11-2003

Oksana Mysina
Oxy Rocks

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