My Search for the Old Russian Soul

When I was 23, I embarked on a feverish journey in search of the old Russian soul–if one can call it that. Every evening at 5pm, I locked myself in and immersed myself in Russian music, cinema, art, literature, biographies, history, and even the language, until 4or 5am each morning. This went on for many months, and I share some of the gems I found here–perhaps some will be a revelation. I imagined there were arcane truths and spiritual awakenings and unprecedented discoveries of arresting beauty passed down through the ages in the very soil and air there. Here I limit myself to discoveries on Youtube, and a couple of images that captured my imagination and have stayed with me ever since–it’s really too many to take in all at once here, but perhaps something will resonate with you. I would love to hear about favorites of yours, as surely you have many to add?

The Churches of Kizhi (c1764)

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Reflections on the Lake

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The view of Lake Lugano from a boat excursion on the “Paradiso”

If you were placed next to two living legends for a week, would you feel inspired, intimidated, overshadowed, amazed, or all of the above? I am still processing a period I just had at the Martha Argerich Project at the Lugano Festival with these two great musicians–memories that will last a lifetime. Two years ago, I had a similar opportunity with the two, but this was even more intense, more incredible, and more inspiring. Still, the lull after such a period is admittedly an enormous comedown.

Because of my close proximity as page turner for the rehearsals, recording session, and concert, I again have to severely limit what I can say publicly so as not to be intrusive into the private workings and process of what I witnessed. But I can say that these are the two hardest-working musicians I have ever witnessed. The first evening, I witnessed an all-night practice session in which Sergei Babayan demonstrated breathtaking prowess in pieces he is preparing for a Wigmore Hall, and also the Prokofiev Second Concerto. Simply hearing how he practiced with extroverted demonstration was enough to prove his abilities as a teacher, interestingly enough. Most material at this point was practiced largely at tempo except in select spots–but I had the sense that Babayan’s ability to process and adapt to change in syntax, fingering, and phrasing, is above the average of any musician I have seen. The practicing itself highlighted, almost to the pianist himself, chord voicings, pared-down structures of the piece, as well as infinite shadings in experimental succession. I feel had I learned to practice this way earlier in life I would have had many advantages. What is astonishing is Sergei Babayan’s equally inventive vivaciousness in life in each moment and in each story he tells–everything is expository and teaches about compassion, humor, understanding, and lots of bringing to awareness aspects of life that only a highly sensitive, perceptive person could bring.

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Pennsylvania Station: Destruction of an American Masterpiece

Built in 1910 by the famous architects McKim, Mead, and White, Pennsylvania Station was a masterpiece of the Beaux Arts style.

Built in 1910 by the famous architects McKim, Mead, and White, Pennsylvania Station was a masterpiece of the Beaux Arts style. Of enormous proportions, it took up two city blocks and was one of the largest public spaces in the world. It was the first station to divide travelers into arrivals and departures in two concourses.

 

It was a masterpiece of American architecture that evoked the great halls of Rome and the palatial railway stations of Europe, and was a crown jewel in New York City. At its peak in 1945, it handled 100 million travelers a year. Its destruction in 1963 after only 53 years provoked international outrage and was considered a “monumental act of vandalism” and started the historical preservation movement in the United States, saving Grand Central Station from a similar fate.

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Nicholas King and The Art of Giving Back

If I had to feature one young person who represents what living a dynamic life in classical music is all about in the 21st Century, it would be Nicholas King. Daring in his entrepreneurial vision and bold in his unusual pathways, he is quickly finding success and recognition both as a pianist and as a mentor to others in the organization he founded, The Art of Giving Back. From a childhood set of charity concerts in the meat department of a local grocery store, to an early appearance on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, to paying his tuition for summer study abroad by selling donuts in high school, Nicholas King is a man and musician who gets his way. Focused, articulate, and passionate, he was a pleasure to join in in conversation this spring at the Slow Train Cafe in Oberlin.

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Where were you born?

I was born and raised in California—I moved around a bit but mainly between Culver City and Marina Del Ray.

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Friendship with an Artist: Kaupo

Usually the most illuminating friendships–the ones that inspire us and change us–are the ones that happen by accident. I first met award-winning Estonian photographer Kaupo Kikkas through his famous portraits of the composer Arvo Pärt. I was drawn to the inner radiance, peace, and loneliness of his language–the same qualities that draw me, for example, to the works of Franz Schubert and the paintings of Edward Hopper. Click any image in this post for full size.

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© Copyright 2017 Zsolt Bognar