by Tony Magee
FOLLOWING the enormous amount of publicity received by the Australian Men’s Choir, Dustyesky, so named because they sing Russian folk songs in Russian very convincingly, having become a YouTube sensation world-wide, I am moved to reflect further on other significant international music projects, where Art triumphs over politics, war, hatred, racism, discrimination and intolerance.
A call from the Russian Ministry of Culture inviting Dustyesky to sing in Red Square for the Immortal Regiment at the Grand Victory Day Parade on May 9, 2020 was quickly forthcoming. The full Russian display, with 250,000 people, President Vladimir Putin, tanks and all the military trimmings were organised.
Dustyesky Choir from Mullumbimby (aka Mullumgrad). Photo: Anastasia Verchak, Russkiy MIR.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the event and Dustyesky's big trip to the Motherland.
Instead, Russian television reporters helped the choir to put a clip together. Filmed on their iPhones in isolation, the group of Aussie men recorded a beautiful yet tragic song about tanks on the battlefield, and a soldier who will not make it home to his family.
The Russia Today TV network edited the clip and broadcast it during the Victory Day telecast.
The men of Dustyesky were amazed.
As Dustyesky's popularity surged, a Russian choir sent back a love letter. The Choir of Udmurtia in the Volga responded with a rendition of Waltzing Matilda. The respect worked both ways.
BUT this is not the first time a cultural exchange between the west and Russia has created an artistic bond of friendship, love and hope for the future.
In 1958, the Ministry of Culture of the then Soviet Union, were in discussions with the American recording company Mercury Records. The project was deemed part of a gesture of cultural reconciliation during the Cold War.
Stereophonic recording had just hit the scene, Mercury being one of the earliest pioneers of the concept. The Russians wanted their famous Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra, with its internationally appealing repertoire, to be recorded with the new technology.
In a complex cultural exchange that took four years to organise, the Mercury recording team from New York finally landed in Moscow in the Spring of 1962 with four-and-half tons of recording equipment, plus recording staff, headed by chief engineer C.R. Fine and recording session director Wilma Cozart.
They recorded the Album “Balalaika Favourites”, in the Bolshoi Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, using three Telefunken 201 microphones, fed into a three channel vacuum tube Ampex tape recorder. Released on the Mercury label later that year in the USA and on the Dutch Philips label for the rest of the world, the Mercury “Living Presence” series of records (and later CD transfers) set a new benchmark in stereophonic sound reproduction.
I note that on the CD re-issue from 1991, Ms Cozart is credited as “Wilma Cozart Fine".
I also heard in Strauss’ “Metamorphosen", chordal structures and harmonic movement that gave a nod of acknowledgment to English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. I can find no references from anyone else in the world with regard to this, so I seem to be alone in my musical observations there. Vaughan Willams’ “Symphony No. 6” however, also reflects themes of war.
Dame Myra Hess in concert at the National Art Gallery, Trafalgar Square, during her lunchtime WWII performances.
Winston Churchill had ordered all artworks in the gallery be removed and relocated to underground safety bunkers for preservation. In addition, all evening concert halls were blacked out at night to avoid being targeted by German bombers, including the two most prominent venues - Wigmore Hall and Royal Albert hall.
|Gieseking's recording of|
Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, 1944
MEANWHILE, in Berlin during 1944, German pianist (French born) Walter Gieseking recorded Beethoven’s Emperor piano concerto (No. 5) with the Radio Orchestra of Berlin, in a live broadcast conducted by Artur Rother. This was significant on three fronts.
IN 1968, Louis Armstrong released the first recording of the song “What a Wonderful World”, composed by Bob Theile and George David Weiss.
NOW let’s bring things back closer to home - Canberra, Australia.
|David Parker & Marie van Hove|
"COMPOSED in the nuclear age, but drawing on the words of a great poet and tragic victim of the First World War, Wilfred Owen, and the powerful ancient Latin text of the Requiem Mass, Benjamin Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ is a heartfelt denunciation of the horror or war.
"WARMEST greetings to everyone gathered in Canberra for a world peace concert sponsored by the Returned Services League, the Canberra School of Music and the Australian War Memorial.
"ON BEFALF of the Chinese government and people, I wish to extend my warm congratulations to the Australian “World Peace Concert.” I would also like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere greetings to the Australian people.
" I SEND my greetings and good wishes for the success of the World Peace Concert in Canberra. I am much looking forward to my forthcoming visit to Australia.
"THE War Requiem which we are about to hear portrays a British and a German soldier lamenting the futility of a civil war in Europe - one of many which tore our continent apart - and some of which plunged the world into chaos.
"I APPLAUD your international appeal for peace through the performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.
PERHAPS most powerfully however, is the performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 conducted by Leonard Bernstein, at the Schauspielhaus Berlin, now called Konzerthaus Berlin, marking the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the re-unification of Germany and through that, the beginning of the end for communist dictatorships in Europe.
The televised concert, commencing at 10.30am on 25th December 1989, included the following spoken introduction by British music broadcaster Humphrey Burton, who also directed the event:
|Deutsche Grammophon issued the concert on LP and CD,|
and in conjunction with Unitel, on 12 inch Video LaserDisc
TO HEAR this performance and in particular to watch it on video, DVD or on YouTube is to experience one of the greatest performances of this work. In addition, I believe it to be the greatest ever musical achievement, in a concert format, of the 20th century.
IN CONCLUSION, I should like to quote from Somerset Maugham’s short story, “The Alien Corn."
Listen to Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World", with spoken introduction here.