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“The Difference Between Quality Art and Crap”

I was chatting with Vladimir Feltsman last Spring about PostClassical Ensemble’s 2017-18 immersion experience, “The Russian Experiment,” when the conversation took an unexpected turn.

I had broached the topic of “cultural community,” and invited Feltsman to compare musical life in the US with the policed Soviet musical milieu he fled in 1987.

We agreed that Western musical life, whatever its virtues, embraced no musical community of culture comparable to what Soviet Russians enjoyed in adversity.

“I’m trying to do what I can to help my younger colleagues,” Feltsman said, referring to the “Piano Summer at New Paltz” festival he founded more than twenty years ago. “In order to be successful, they try to copy the most successful people at the moment in the music business” – people who were not “inspirational characters. . . . We all know their names.”

I recalled a conversation I once had with the pianist of my acquaintance who is of the same generation as Feltsman and myself. We agreed that there was a time when pianists of international consequence were famous for a reason – but that today it’s become a “crapshoot.”

“It is,” Feltsman agreed. “Absolutely. It’s a different artform. It’s a different market, and we know that the market dictates whatever it needs.”

I requested that our conversation end on a more optimistic note.

So Feltsman added that he hoped “that people, after being satiated with youtube snippets of ‘The Bumblebee’ [millions of hits and counting], would eventually come to understand the difference between quality art and crap.”

This exchange was filmed by Behrouz Jamali, who expertly documents many PostClassical Ensemble events. Behrouz produced a film, “The Russian Experiment: A Different Perspective On Soviet Musical Culture.” “The Difference Between Quality Art and Crap” is an excerpt.

To watch Vladimir Feltsman extol the forgotten Soviet composers of the 1920s, click here. To watch Behrouz’s entire film: here.

Part two of PCE’s “The Russian Experiment” comprises (1) an Oct. 16 concert featuring Vladimir Feltsman and PCE members performing works by Roslavets, Mosolov, and Protopopov (whose Second Piano Sonata is a major find); (2) the Soviet silent film classic The New Babylon with Dmitri Shostakovich’s score performed live on March 30 and 31; and (3) pertinent film screenings at the National Gallery of Art.

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  1. Kathleen Hulser says:

    Intriguing to hear these quite unfamiliar names. The clip of Feltsman playing the Kabalevsky does support his notion that K. was more a CP endorsed phenomenon than a memorable talent.

  2. I have not watched the video yet, but based on the written comments, I would like to add that part of the problem is the audience – in order for a sophisticated musician such as Moiseiwitsch to be fully understood requires that the audience is properly educated in what constitutes art – the importance of that in Soviet (and post Soviet Russia) vs. the dismissive approach to arts education in the US is certainly part of the problem, and it takes a lot of work to self-educate; it is clear that most people don’t have the impetus to do so.

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