Monday 25 May 2015

The Campaign for Civil Rights during the 1950s and 1960s

"It's a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with."
—Pete Seeger

"As an artist I come to sing, but as a citizen, I will always speak for peace, and no one can silence me in this."
—Paul Robeson

"An unjust law is no law."
—Martin Luther King

For an assessment of Seeger's life and career, you might wish to read Susan Green in Critics at Large

We will be showing clips from the 2007 documentary Peter Seeger: The Power of Song

Roger Ebert says that the film is a tribute to the legendary singer and composer who thought music could be a force for good, and proved it by writing songs that have actually helped shape our times ("If I Had a Hammer" and "Turn, Turn, Turn") and popularizing "We Shall Overcome" and Woody Guthrie's unofficial national anthem, "This Land Is Your Land."

Sunday 17 May 2015

Alan Furst: The Anti-Fascist Novelist

This essay originally appeared on 15 May in Critics at Large and is reproduced here because the the novels of Alan Furst encapsulate the historical era that constitutes a substantial portion of That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013)

Novelist Alan Furst. (Photo by Rainer Hosch)

"… Don't tell the world, but Stalin's just as bad as Hitler." 
"Why not tell the world?" 
"Because they won't believe it, dear colonel." 
- Alan Furst, Spies of Warsaw (2008) 
In 1984, Alan Furst, a journalist and author of four novels, travelled to the Soviet Union and it changed his life. As he noted later, he saw fear in the eyes of the people he met, and it shocked him. He decided that he would never again write a novel set in contemporary times, but that the threat posed by every expression of fascism between 1934 and 1945 would be his subject. To gain a greater grasp for the historical and geographical milieus, he and his wife relocated to Paris – the setting, at least in part, for almost all his subsequent novels. He purchased old books and maps to ensure greater verisimilitude. As a result, readers can be confident that the streets, restaurants and nightclubs are accurately depicted and that they are not likely to find anachronisms; any book or film that a character or the narrator cites could have been read or seen at the time of the novel’s setting. Influenced by espionage writers Eric Ambler and Graham Greene, the social novelist Anthony Powell, and perhaps by films such as Casablanca (1942) and the noirish, The Third Man (1947), Furst set out to create his own niche in the espionage literary domain and published the first of thirteen historical thrillers, Night Soldiers (1988), a set of novels that became known as the Night Soldiers Series.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Spaces of Blue: Week Four: Humane Moments during the Communist Era

The War Symphonies, a 1997 Canadian-German co-production is the most recent, and in some ways the most impressive, of the sequence of revisionist programmes on Shostakovich. Produced for Rhombus Media by Niv Fichman, the film is directed by the distinguished multiple award-winner Larry Weinstein. Shot on location in St. Petersburg and Moscow, this 82-minute documentary includes excerpted performances by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, both conducted by Valery Gergiev, who in addition offers his views on the featured works: a scene from Lady Macbeth, symphonies 4 to 9, and the burlesque Rayok (given in tantalising glimpses of a sharp Mariinsky production).

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Spaces of Blue: Week Three: War traumas

I would highly recommend reading the following article by Ian Brown that explores how trauma can be genetically passed on to later generations. If you are not able to access it, I have reproduced it below.

A memorial concert reawakens the story of an artistic uprising in the Nazi concentration camp, Terezin, where a chorus of 150 inmates confronts the Nazis face-to-face - and sings to them what they dare not say.

"Defiant Requiem is an incredible story of the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin, wherein many talented Czech artists were imprisoned – and it specifically tells the story of one Czech composer, Raphael Sch├Ąchter, who's idea it was to lead a performance of Verdi's "Requiem" inside the camp. And it tells the parallel story of music conductor Murry Sidlin who decades later went back to Terezin with the Orchestra of Terezin Remembrance, specifically to perform "Requiem" again, quite beautifully, this time with survivors from the camp. I don't really have the words – let me just say this story was completely new to me and had a profound impact on me, particularly the incredible interviews with the survivors.

When the film was over, the whole crowd stayed still and silent all the way through the final credit, before breaking out in applause. It was such a profound experience to be educated on something completely new relating to the Holocaust, and for the subject matter to be told with such depth and compassion, but also restraint. The story was sensational enough, the filmmakers wisely chose not to be manipulative (which would have been easy in this case) – they just told you and showed you this story with honesty, clarity and genuine beauty….This is what true documentary film making should always be like." A film-goer's review,

The Verdi Requiem will be performed by the TSO on May 21, 22, 23