Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Berlin, Musical Support for Rights in Russia

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MELISSA EDDY/The New York Times

BERLIN — After weeks of insisting that the star-studded “To Russia With Love” concert he organized in Berlin was not aimed against any individual, government or law, the violinist Gidon Kremer allowed the music to speak.

Held at Berlin’s Philharmonic Hall on the seventh anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist and Kremlin critic, Monday’s concert featured great works of Russian music, from Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich to more recent composers, such as Sofia Gubaidulina and Leonid Desyatnikov.

Mr. Kremer, who grew up in Soviet-controlled Latvia, hoped the concert, which was broadcast live over the Internet via the Franco-German network Arte, would be followed in Russia and inspire those who are struggling there against the recent crackdown on human rights.

“Our concert reaches out a hand to all those who are fighting bravely against all threats for freedom and human rights,” Mr. Kremer said. “Music can be a sign of solidarity; can be understood as a plea for human strength and support.”

The performance included a new work, “Angels of Sorrow,” by Giya Kancheli, which was dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic who is imprisoned in Russia. The piece featured simple melodies sung in the clear voices of the Shchedryk Children’s Choir, from Kiev, Ukraine, interposed with jarring chords of the piano or the xylophone.

“I cannot remain indifferent to the endless manifestations of ruthlessness and violence, which is perhaps why sadness and sorrow prevail in my music,” Mr. Kancheli said. “The work is dedicated to all innocent victims.”

Two years ago, Mr. Kremer staged a similar concert in Strasbourg, France to protest the imprisonment of Mr. Khodorkovsky and Platon A. Lebedev, an associate of Mr. Khodorkovsky. For the Berlin concert, Mr. Kremer had invited representatives from German rights organizations who support their counterparts in Russia to take part.

The music was interspersed with readings, including one by the Romanian-born Nobel laureate Herta Müller, who decried Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s use of “trumped up guilt” calling it “an old trick of the Soviet regime” that she compared to her own years of suffering as a dissident under Romania’s secret police, the Securitate.

“For Putin, to be loved is to be feared,” Ms. Müller said. “To feel powerful he must have many enemies.”

The concert opened with Mr. Kremer on the solo violin, backed by his Kremerata Baltica orchestra, playing a dark, slow Sinfonietta by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, followed by a Bach cello suite by Nicolas Altstaedt. An Estonian lullaby sung by the children’s choir preceded Mr. Kancheli’s “Angels of Sorrow.”

Daniel Barenboim, the Israeli conductor, joined Mr. Kremer for a “Prayer” for violin and piano, by Rachmaninoff and Fritz Kreisler following the intermission.

Before the concert, German organizations discussed human rights and appealed to concertgoers for support. Amnesty International collected signatures on a giant postcard to be sent to representatives in the Duma.

Selmin Caliskan, the secretary general of Amnesty International’s German branch, praised the collaboration with some of the world’s leading classical musicians.

“Human rights is normally rather dull business. We take to the streets, gather signatures, send petitions to lawmakers,” Ms. Caliskan said. “Music allows us to reach a different audience, to expressing solidarity in an entirely different tone.”

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