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Leaders of a lost generation
TEN years ago, a senior Tory minister drove a family of Russian refugees through a loophole in his government's new Asylum Bill.
|Dmitri Smirnov and Elena Firsova, now settled in Britain: 'We are not totally at home, but here is better'|
Dmitri Smirnov and Elena Firsova were leaders of a promising new generation of post-Soviet composers - a generation that knew not Shostakovich and rejected the quirky anarchies of Alfred Schnittke. Their Moscow home in early 1990 was the hub of a revivified Association of Contemporary Music, whose fervent members huddled around the visiting Pierre Boulez. Where are they now? Scattered across four continents.
Smirnov and Firsova fled to Britain fearing counter-revolution and a lack of fresh food for their two children. David Mellor, the music-loving Treasury Secretary, chased their file through the Home Office and won them a three-year residency permit. A Labour spokesman, Alistair Darling, grouched: "There are a lot of people in the same boat - who don't play music."
Having moved home 13 times in six months, the Smirnovs were loaned a house on the Dartington Estate in Devon, before moving to Keele University as visiting professors. They mastered English idioms, became British citizens and composed prolifically. As frontliners in a creative mass exodus, hopes ran high that their group might re-energise western music, igniting millennial London as Stravinsky and Prokofiev had excited 1920s Paris.
Some hopes. Ten years on, Smirnov, now 52, and Firsova, 50 this month, are as little known as they were on the day they arrived. There is a Philharmonia concert of two of their works at the Royal Festival Hall tomorrow night at six o'clock, but it is a free pre-concert, an amuse-gueule for musical gourmets. It is also, lamentably, their only orchestral performance in Britain all year.
Their ACM contemporaries share much the same fate. Shunned by compatriot conductors, undiscovered by westerners, Russia's emigre composers are the unheard ghosts at Europe's over-subsidised feast. With the exception of Sofia Gubaidulina, whose 70th-birthday year has aligned an unikely coalition of vacant new-agers and cerebral note-splitters, the middle generation of Russian music is mouldering unheard in regional universities and dormitory towns.
Smirnov and Firsova consider themselves more fortunate than most. Married since 1972, they defected to a culture they adored. "My father," says Firsova, "always told me as a child: England is the best country in the world." His observation was the more poignant for the fact that her father, a nuclear scientist, was never allowed to travel abroad and cultivated his anglophilia by reading English novels. Smirnov, a descendant of opera singers, derived his yearnings for England from the paintings and poetry of William Blake, on which 20 of his scores are based.
"Our aim was not to stay for ever," recalls Firsova. "It was a very dangerous time, all our friends were leaving. Everybody expected a coup, or something more terrible. We had an invitation to Cambridge and performances in London, so we came."
Stranded in London with visas running out, their six-year-old son, Phillip, struck up a playground conversation with a stranger, who wrote to his MP, who happened to be the only concertgoing minister in the British Cabinet. "I was willing to do much more," Mellor said at the time. "We didn't ask for political asylum," notes Smirnov. "We wanted to have an opportunity to go back." In Moscow, meanwhile, their music was taken off concert programmes and their "defection" widely condemned. Nine years passed before their music was played again in their homeland - and then with "(England)" cruelly parenthesised behind the composers' names.
Here, after a swirl of attention, performances dwindled and, when their five-year terms at Keele expired, a promised post at the Royal Academy of Music failed to materialise. Moving to St Albans to be near London, they asked a policeman if he knew of other Russians in the town. "Not here," was the reply. Adrift in middle England, Firsova began commuting one day a week to Manchester to teach at the Royal Northern College, while Smirnov took in private pupils. "We are quite happy," both insist.
"We are not totally at home," admits Firsova, "but in Russia we were seen as 'internal emigrants' because we loved English ideas, and here is better. Our friends in Germany and the States do not have it any easier."
Cold as their reception has been, it has not clouded their arcadian ideal of England or the urgency of their work. Smirnov has completed 127 scores, Firsova 98. Both possess a professional rigour that is the hallmark of the Moscow conservatory. Called in at short notice to supply music for a BBC TV documentary on Stalin's Gulags, Smirnov delivered 40 minutes of orchestral full score in a week. His current project, for the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, is a musical portrait of Dmitri Shostakovich, along with a wind setting of the emblematic eighth string quartet. Next on his desk is a cello concerto, commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich.
Firsova's is a subtler art, with 10 string quartets at its core. Her music often hints at private thoughts, never fully articulated but peeping through the foliage of her score like a cat in bushes.
Neither writes distinctively Russian music, eschewing the national taste for lugubriousness, big bells and double basses. Their primary aesthetic influence was the westernised iconoclast Edison Denisov, who unfashionably proclaimed that beauty must come first.
"Denisov also taught that you can say big things very quietly," notes Smirnov. "This was very important in Moscow at that time," adds Firsova, "because Shostakovich mocked beauty. He believed the world was terrible and composers must reflect that in their music."
Firsova and Smirnov have little contact with British composers, let alone the intense friendships they enjoyed back home. "English composers tend to be closed," sighs Smirnov. "It's a question of culture."
Denisov died in Paris in 1996 and the rest of their ACM circle - Ekimovsky, Grabovsky, Tarnopolsky, Karayev, Shoot, Korndorf, Vustin - are universally dispersed. One, the dreamy Vladislav Shoot, followed them to Dartington.
This is a diaspora that has been doubly dispossessed. In 1917, Russia lost its finest composers and the West was enriched by their exile. In 1991, Russia lost its composers for a second time but the West by now could not care less.
Smirnov and Firsova are leaders of a lost generation whose music is sinking in a featherbed of consumerist indifference. Disowned by Russia, unclaimed by Britain, they have fallen between the cracks of two societies where culture has become inessential and tradition is a thing of the past. Like the tundra of Siberia, the future of Russian music is melting away, forsaken by one and all.
A Muscovite, Smirnoff was a student of Emiliya Pavlovskaya and Alexander Dodonov. He made his début in St Petersburg in 1903 as Gigi in Eugenio Domenico Esposito's La Camorra. The venue was the Hermitage Theatre. In 1904, Smirnoff became a member of the Bolshoi company in Moscow, singing there until 1910. He then sang at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, from 1911 to 1917. (He had first appeared at the Mariinsky in 1907.)
Smirnoff made his French début at the Paris Opéra in 1907. His successful Parisian performances led to an invitation for him to appear at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang in 1911–12. Competition from the celebrated international tenors Enrico Caruso and John McCormack, who were also singing at the Met at that time, resulted in Smirnoff's achieving limited success with New York audiences. In 1914, he performed in the "Russian Seasons" at London's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He would not sing in the United States again except for two performances of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades with the Washington National Opera—a semi-professional company not related to its present namesake—in 1926. 
The tenor left his native land after the Russian Revolution of 1917, preferring to continue his career in the West. Among the cities which he visited were Berlin, Monte Carlo, Milan, Rome, Madrid and Buenos Aires. In 1929, he returned to the Soviet Union for a concert tour. Smirnoff became a citizen of the Estonian Republic on 4 February 1932, and took an active part as a soloist in the opera theater, "Estonia". He taught singing in London and Athens and later retired to Riga (then USSR, now Latvia), where he died in 1944, aged 61.
Smirnoff was equally comfortable performing lyric roles in Russian, French or Italian opera. His voice was plaintive in tone with easy high notes, great breath control, and a distinctive vibrato. Smirnoff's main tenor rivals in Moscow and St Petersburg prior to the 1917 Revolution had been Leonid Sobinov (1871–1934) and Ivan Yershov (1867–1943). Yershov undertook heroic parts such as Siegfried and Otello which Smirnov never attempted, but Sobinov's repertoire was similar to that of Smirnoff.
Smirnoff left an estimated 90 recordings, the first made circa 1909 and the last around two decades later. Many of these recordings are available on CD reissues by various labels. They confirm his stature as one of the best Russian operatic tenors of the past 120 years—and perhaps the most imaginative artist among them.
Composer, conductor, and creative thinker—John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of American music. His works stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes.
Among Adams’s works are several of the most performed contemporary classical pieces today: Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, Chamber Symphony, Doctor Atomic Symphony, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and his Violin Concerto. His stage works, in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, include Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Niño, Doctor Atomic, A Flowering Tree, and the Passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary. Adams’s most recent opera, Girls of the Golden West, set during the 1850s California Gold Rush, was premiered by the San Francisco Opera in 2017.
In 2019, Adams received Holland's prestigious Erasmus Prize, “for contributions to European culture,” the only American composer ever chosen for this award. Adams has additionally received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Northwestern University, Cambridge University, and the Juilliard School. Since 2009 he has held the position of Creative Chair with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A provocative writer, he is author of the highly acclaimed autobiography Hallelujah Junction and is a contributor to the New York Times Book Review.
As a conductor of his own works and wide variety of repertoire, Adams has appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the orchestras of Seattle, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Toronto.
Adams’s 2019 piano concerto Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? was recently recorded by pianist Yuja Wang with the LA Phil and Gustavo Dudamel, and released by Deutsche Grammophon.
This biography can be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with the following credit: Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.
Composer, conductor, and creative thinker—John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of American music. His works, both operatic and symphonic, stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes.
Works spanning more than three decades have entered the repertoire and are among the most performed of all contemporary classical music, among them Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, Chamber Symphony, Doctor Atomic Symphony, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and his Violin Concerto. His stage works, all in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, include Nixon in China (1987), The Death of Klinghoffer (1991), El Niño (2000), Doctor Atomic (2005), A Flowering Tree (2006), and the Passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2012). Adams’s latest opera Girls of the Golden West, set during the 1850s California Gold Rush, premiered at San Francisco Opera in 2017 before traveling to the Dutch National Opera in February 2019 for its European premiere.
Other recent works include Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, written for piano soloist Yuja Wang, the LA Phil, and Gustavo Dudamel, as well as the orchestral work -I Still Dance, written for Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, and premiered in September 2019 in San Francisco.
In 2019, Adams received Holland's prestigious Erasmus Prize, “for contributions to European culture,” the only American composer ever chosen for this award. That same year, he received the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award for Music and Opera in recognition of the communicative power of his works, especially through their treatment of current events. Other awards include the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for composing On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11 and the 1993 Grawemeyer Award for his Violin Concerto. Adams has additionally received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Northwestern University, Cambridge University, the Juilliard School, and the Royal Academy of Music. A provocative writer, he is author of the highly acclaimed autobiography Hallelujah Junction and is a contributor to the New York Times Book Review.
As a conductor, Adams appears with the world’s major orchestras in programs combining his own works with a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Mozart to Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass, and Ellington. In recent seasons, he has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, the orchestras of Seattle, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Toronto, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he has held the position of Creative Chair since 2008.
In 2020, the world premiere recording of Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? was released on Deutsche Grammophon, featuring Yuja Wang, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Other recent releases include the world premiere recording of Doctor Atomic (Nonesuch 2018), with Adams conducting the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s “John Adams Edition,” a 2017 box set of live performances conducted by Adams, Gustavo Dudamel, Alan Gilbert, Kirill Petrenko, and Sir Simon Rattle.
Together with his wife, the photographer Deborah O’Grady, Adams has created the Pacific Harmony Foundation, which funds young composers, ensembles and music education outreach.
The official John Adams website is www.earbox.com.
This biography can be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with the following credit: Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.
Layout and BuildingsA map indicating the territory of the Mongol Yuan dynasty of China (1271-1368 CE) / Arab Hafez, Wikimedia Commons
The khan himself shunned his nomadic roots and, unlike his grandfather, the Mongol Empire’s founder Genghis Khan (r. 1206-1227 CE), he decided he had had enough of living in yurt tents and instead had a fine palace built. The city, designed by Kublai’s Chinese advisor Liu Bingzhong (1216-1274 CE), was also given earth circuit walls and towers, creating the classic Chinese square plan for the whole city. The outer walls were some 3.5 to 5.5 metres (12-18 ft) in height and access was provided by six gates – two on the east and west sides and one each on the others. Each side of the perimeter wall had six towers. The entire city covered 25,000 hectares and boasted a population of around 200,000 people at its peak. There was an ample supply of water thanks to the abundance of natural springs in the area. Buildings and streets were carefully laid out considering the principles of Feng Shui, especially in relation to the mountains in the north and river to the south. Indeed, the whole city was laid out on a north-south axis with three distinct areas: the Inner City and the Outer City, and an enclosed hunting preserve.
The Outer City, where most people lived, was packed with mud and board housing. The Inner City was separated from the Outer City by a brick wall some 3-5 metres (10-16 ft) in height and which had four towers. These walls created another square area within the outer square. Here Kublai Khan and his entourage resided in a palace which was built upon a raised platform made from earth reinforced with stones and wooden beams. The palace and other buildings at the site such as the major temples were built using a mix of wood, stone, marble, and glazed tiles. To the immediate northwest of the city was a hunting preserve which consisted of meadows, woods, and lakes and which was populated by semi-tamed animals such as deer. The hunting preserve was also used for falconry and keeping herds of white mares and special cows whose milk was reserved for the khans and those given that privilege. To keep the animals in and the uninvited out, the whole preserve was enclosed in an earth wall and moat.
DRAMATIC: Tiriel, opera (1983–85 Freiburg im Breisgau, Jan. 28, 1989) The Lamentations of Thel, opera (1985–86 London, June 9, 1989) film scores. ORCH.: 2 Ricercares for Strings (1963–83 Moscow, April 11, 1983) 2 piano concertos: No. 1 (1971 Moscow, June 21, 1972) and No. 2 (Moscow, Dec. 25, 1978) Clarinet Concerto (1974 rev. 1977) Pastorale (1975 Leningrad, Feb. 14, 1977) Triple Concerto for Alto Saxophone, Double Bass, Piano, and Orch. (Moscow, Dec. 26, 1977) Fanfares, symphonic poem (1978) 2 syms.: No. 1, The Seasons (in Memory of William Blake) (1980 Riga, Oct. 8, 1981) and No. 2 for 4 Singers, Chorus, and Orch. (1982) Tiriel-Prologue (1983) Mozart Variations (1987 Moscow, Feb. 2, 1988) Concerto for Violin and 13 Strings (1990) Cello Concerto (1992). CHAMBER: Monologue for Clarinet (1968) 2 violin sonatas: No. 1 (1969 Moscow, April 20, 1970 rev. 1971) and No. 2 (Moscow, Dec. 26, 1979) 2 Fugues for Violin (1970) String Trio (1970 Moscow, Feb. 28, 1971) Cradle Song for Oboe and Piano (1972) 4 string quartets: No. 1 (1973), No. 2 (Moscow, Oct. 22, 1985), No. 3 (1993), and No. 4 (1993) Trio Sacrum for Percussion (1974) The Melancholic Minute for Clarinet and Piano (1975) Preparations for Clarinet and Piano (1975) Canon-Humoresque for 3 Saxophones (1975) Sonata for Flute and Harp (Moscow, Oct. 6, 1975) Mirages for Saxophone Quartet (1975 Moscow, May 6, 1976) Lyrical Composition for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Cello, and Harpsichord (1975 Moscow, May 11, 1977) Solo for Harp (Limburg, Aug. 1976) Bassoon Sonata (1977 Moscow, Jan. 30, 1978) 3 Dances for Xylophone (1977) 2 piano trios: No. 1 (1977 Moscow, Oct. 11, 1980) and No. 2 (1992) Cello Sonata (1978 Moscow, Feb. 24, 1979) 2 Pieces for Harp (1978) 9 Children’s Pieces for Horn and Piano (1979) Children’s Concerto for Cello and Piano (1980) Dirge Canons in memoriam Igor Stravinsky for 13 Players (Moscow, Dec. 14, 1981) Serenade for Oboe, Saxophone, and Cello (Moscow, May 25, 1981) 3 Equale for 4 Instruments (1981) Ballade for Alto Saxophone and Piano (Moscow, April 14, 1982) Forest Pictures for Harp (1982) The Farewell Song for Viola and Harp (Moscow, Oct. 4, 1982) Fantasia for Saxophone Quartet (1982 Moscow, Dec. 12, 1983) Tiriel for Baritone Saxophone and Piano (1983 Moscow, April 25, 1984) Tiriel for Cello and Piano (1984 Kishinev, March 5, 1987) Music Greeting to H. S. for Trumpet (Hamburg, Oct. 16, 1985) Partita for Violin (1985 N.Y., Dec. 7, 1987) Epitaph to Emil Gilels for Piano and Organ (1985) 7 Melancholic Waltzes for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1985 Kiev, Feb. 22, 1986) Thel-Prologue for Chamber Ensemble (1985) 2 Moods for Guitar (1987) The Moolight Story for Piccolo, Bass Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Double Bass (1988 London, June 8, 1989) The Evening Song for Alto or Tenor Saxophone and Piano (1990) Trinity Music for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano (1990) Jacob’s Ladder for Chamber Ensemble (1990 London, April 17, 1991) Job’s Studies for Clarinet (1992) The River of Life for Chamber Ensemble (1992) Prayer for Trumpet and Organ (1992) Threnody for Trumpet and Organ (1992) Orcades for Flute (1992) Piano Quintet (1992).
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Historic Masters Series (Vinyl Reissues)
The Historic Masters series was begun in the early 1970s by a handful of collectors in collaboration with the British Institute of Recorded Sound. Its purpose was to publish important operatic recordings from extant metal parts still held by EMI (primarily). Many of these recordings were never issued, or are so rare as to be virtually unavailable in original form. Each issue was pressed in a limited edition, based on the number of active subscribers. The Historic Masters program ended a number of years ago, and the issues have become collector's items in their own right. Click here to download a spreadsheet with complete details on the entire series (original labels catalog, matrix & take numbers composers, recording dates, etc.).
Because the pressings were done on high-grade vinyl, they have a quietness and clarity far exceeding the original issues.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Significant discounts are available for quantity orders, as follows (enter the appropriate promo code at checkout):
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Quantities are limited and are sold on a first-come, first-served basis any records you order that are not in stock will be immediately refunded. The earlier issues are the most readily available (which is why they are also the least expensive).
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Please note that these records may only be played on a modern turntable steel needles and heavy tonearms will chew them up.
Composer Dmitri Smirnov dies, aged 71
Boosey & Hawkes and Sirkorski are sad to announce the death of Dmitri Smirnov, the leading Soviet-born composer who emigrated to the UK in 1991.
The Russian-British composer Dmitri Smirnov died on 9 April in Watford at the age of 71 from the consequences of COVID-19. He is survived by his wife, the Russian-British composer Elena Firsova, and their children, composer and pianist Alissa Firsova and artist Philip Firsov.
Dmitri Smirnov [published by Sikorski] was born in Minsk in 1948 into a family of opera singers and spent most of his childhood in Frunse, the capital of the Kirghiz Republic. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory between 1967 and 1972 with Nikolai Sidelnikov, Edison Denisov and Yuri Kholopov. While still a student, Smirnov was in contact with Philipp Herschkowitz, an influential student of Berg and Webern living in Moscow, which deepened and expanded his knowledge of twelve-tone music without leading to his full adoption of dodecaphony in all its rigour. He worked as a music editor for Soveietski Kompositor between 1973 and 1980.
In 1976 Smirnov won first prize for a work at the International Harp Week in Maastricht and soon rose to prominence as one of the leading young modernist Russian composers of his generation. However, his unapproved participation in Western festivals of Soviet music led to his blacklisting by the Composers' Union under Tikhon Khrennikov in 1979, one of a group of seven composers including his wife Elena Firsova, Denisov and Gubaidulina. This effectively prevented Smirnov's music being performed on the radio and television, and prohibited the publication of his scores.
In 1981 he turned to full-time composition and was one of the founding members of the alternative New Association for Contemporary Music in Moscow in 1990. The political thaw in the late 1980s brought major performances for Smirnov in the West, including the premieres of three Blake-inspired works: his operas Tiriel at the Freiburg Stadttheater and The Lamentations of Thel at the Almeida Festival in London, and his first symphony 'The Seasons' at the Tanglewood Festival in the USA.
Following his emigration from Russia with his family in 1991, he established a new musical life in the UK - the homeland of his beloved William Blake and Shakespeare - working as a lecturer and freelance composer until his death. He held positions as composer in residence at St John's College Cambridge and Dartington and a visiting professorship at Keele University. He settled with his family in St Albans in 1998 and since 2003 taught at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
Through the influence of Denisov, Smirnov achieved a unique synthesis of serialism with an expressive Franco-Russian sensuality. The third formative ingredient was the poetry of William Blake, whose apocalyptic imagery and symbolism were not only the basis for his dramatic works, but also characterize Smirnow‘s vocal and chamber music compositions.
Major works by Dmitri Smirnov include the operas Tiriel (1983-85) and The Lamentations of Thel (1986), the Mozart-Variations for orchestra (1987), Jacob's Ladder for ensemble (1991), a cello concerto (1992), three violin concertos (1990/95/96), three symphonies (1980/82/95) and a Requiem (2006).
How US Evangelicals Helped Create Russia’s Anti-Gay Movement
In November 2010, Russia’s Sanctity of Motherhood organization kicked off its first-ever national conference. The theme, according to its organizers, was urgent: solving “the crisis of traditional family values” in a modernizing Russia. The day opened with a sextet leading 1,000 swaying attendees in a prayer. Some made the sign of the cross, others bowed or raised their arms to the sky before settling into the plush red and gold seats of the conference hall at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.
On the second morning of the conference, the only American in attendance, a tall, collected man, stepped up for his speech. Larry Jacobs, vice president of the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families (WCF), an umbrella organization for the US religious right’s heavy hitters, told the audience that American evangelicals had a 40-year track record of “defending life and family” and they hoped to be “true allies” in Russia’s traditional values crusade.
The gathering marked the beginning of the family values fervor that has swept Russia in recent years. Warning that low birth rates are a threat to the long-term survival of the Russian people, politicians have been pushing to restrict abortion and encourage bigger families. Among the movement’s successes is a law that passed last summer and garnered global outrage in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” a vague term that has been seen as effectively criminalizing any public expression of same-sex relationships.
Anti-gay groups have made tormenting the LGBT community a national and organized affair: Vigilante gangs have used social media to lure hundreds of gay people to fake dates and then disseminate videos of them being beaten or sexually humiliated, garnering hundreds of thousands of followers. Arrests and beatings at gay rights demonstrations are commonplace. This month, LGBT activists were arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg hours before the Olympic opening ceremony and have been detained in Sochi itself.
Since Jacobs first traveled to Russia for the Sanctity of Motherhood conference, he and his WCF colleagues have returned regularly to bolster Russia’s nascent anti-gay movement&mdashand to work with powerful Russian connections that they’ve acquired along the way. In 2014, the World Congress of Families will draw an international group of conservative activists together in Moscow, a celebratory convening that Jacobs foreshadowed on that first visit, when he ended his speech triumphantly: “Together, we can win!”
How the World Congress took Russia
The Sanctity of Motherhood conference represented a homecoming of sorts for WCF, which was conceived in Russia in 1995. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, two sociology professors at Lomonosov Moscow State University, Anatoly Antonov and Victor Medkov, had been watching with mounting concern as marriage and birth rates fell precipitously&mdashthis was not how capitalism was supposed to play out. But they thought they knew who could help.
They turned to Allan Carlson, president of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, a historian who made his name studying family policy, earning an appointment to President Reagan’s National Commission on Children. His 1988 book, Family Questions: Reflections on the American Social Crisis, had set out to define and explain how a similar demographic decay&mdashspurred by the postwar feminist and sexual revolutions&mdashhad played out in America. Medkov and Antonov read his work with enthusiasm, invited him to Moscow, and took him to meet Ivan Shevchenko&mdasha Russian Orthodox mystic in whose Moscow apartment the WCF was hatched.
They envisioned the World Congress as a global gathering for social conservatives dedicated to protecting their vision of the family in a changing society. They soon launched plans to host their first conference in 1997 in Prague. It proved an unexpected success, drawing more than 700 participants. That year Carlson, who had raised most of the money to host the event, helped establish and became president of the Howard Center, which adopted the WCF as a core project.
WCF has since put on conferences in Europe, Mexico, and Australia that have been attended by thousands. The group has deep ties with the most powerful organizations in America’s religious right, including Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, and Americans United for Life. These groups and many others pay $2,500 annually to be WCF partners, and some give additional funds&mdashFocus, the Alliance Defense Fund, and the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute each chipped in $20,000 to help put on the 2012 World Congress in Madrid. In Russia, they’ve tapped the support of the nation’s religious right and its billionaire sponsors.
Since 2010, WCF has helped host at least five major gatherings in Russia where American evangelicals put their views before Russian audiences. At a 2011 demographic summit in Moscow, the event’s loaded two-day schedule of panels and speeches included just one 10-minute slot without an American presenter.
These gatherings have helped WCF’s American leaders establish tight relationships with key Russian government officials, like Duma member Elena Mizulina, the country’s foremost anti-gay legislator, who has met with Jacobs in Moscow at least three times and is a frequent attendee at WCF events. This June, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown, who serves on WCF’s Moscow 2014 planning committee, flew to Russia two days after the lower chamber of parliament approved her gay propaganda ban to meet with Mizulina about crafting her next piece of landmark legislation, a gay-adoption ban. They were met by another 2014 planning committee member, former Fox News producer Jack Hanick, for a round table on the topic.
WCF has lent its support to anti-gay politics elsewhere in Eastern Europe&mdashSerbia, Lithuania, Romania&mdashbut it has had its biggest and most notable successes in Russia. Indeed, the rise of anti-gay laws in Russia has mirrored, almost perfectly, the rise of WCF’s work in the country, with 13 new anti-gay laws passed since Jacobs first traveled there. When I ask Jacobs if WCF’s work has contributed to this pattern, he laughs and says, “Yes, I think that is accurate.”
To be sure, the country was already fertile ground for WCF’s efforts: “On the issue of sexuality, its no secret that Russia is a conservative country,” says Tanya Cooper, Human Rights Watch’s Russia researcher.
Russians have increasingly adopted the kind of language the American religious right has long deployed to fight acceptance of homosexuality&mdashterms like “natural family,” “traditional values,” and “protecting children,” with rarely a mention of the word “gay.”
“This does not seem like native Russian policy,” Cooper says. “It’s the rhetoric of homophobic activists in the States.”
But the fight is not just about what happens in Moscow. With same-sex marriage now legal in 16 American states and counting, elements of the US religious right have come to see Russia as a redoubt in a global battle against homosexuality. “The Russians,” Jacobs has said, “might be the Christian saviors of the world.”
That’s in large part due to the Russian Orthodox Church’s immense political influence. Post-Soviet Russia saw a huge revival in Orthodoxy after communism’s restrictions were lifted, and harsh new economic realities increased the appeal of the faith. By making common cause with the church and its goals, Putin has not only cast his regime’s opponents as enemies of Russian tradition, but shored up his popularity: Today, about 90 percent of Russians identify as Orthodox. The church is a marker of national identity, a source of political endorsements, and an official participant in the legislative process: In a 2009 agreement with Putin’s ruling United Russia party, the country’s top Orthodox official, Patriarch Kirill, won the right to review (and suggest changes to) any legislation being considered by the Duma. Since then, both Putin and Patriarch Kirill have stated explicitly and repeatedly that they believe in collaboration between church and state&mdasha partnership that is helping to drive the government’s campaign against homosexuality.
Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov is one of the church’s most prominent officials, the host of a weekly TV show and the head of eight Moscow congregations. When I arrive at one of them on a rainy Sunday, mass is still ongoing. In his office, two men are setting up tripods and camera equipment. Archpriest Dmitri explains that our interview will be uploaded to his personal blog to ensure he won’t be misrepresented.
Dmitri was recently appointed to head the Patriarch’s Commission on the Family, Protection of Motherhood, and Childhood, a church body established in 2011 to influence legislators and act as a policy development shop for the Putin administration.
“We don’t even use the word ‘gay.’ We use the word ‘homosexualists,'” Archpriest Dmitri explains. “What’s ‘gay’ about it? I think it’s pretty sad, actually. We see homosexualism as a sin. And not just homosexualism, but also alcoholism, drug use, murder of people on the streets, or robbing a bank.”
The commission has worked closely with Mizuluna’s Duma committee on family policy, and confers with a variety of international organizations of these, Dmitri says, “our main connection is the World Congress of Families.”
What can “homosexualists” birth?
To learn more about the work of WCF, I’ve arranged to meet Anatoly Antonov, the WCF cofounder, at his office at Moscow State University, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions. Antonov, who has slicked back salt-and-pepper hair and wire-rimmed glasses, pulls a book off his shelf&mdashthere are at least 10 more copies&mdashsigns it, and presents it as a gift. It is a compilation of Carlson’s essays that Antonov personally translated, got published, and now distributes to students.
Family, as Antonov sees it, is crumbling in the contraception-happy, gay-friendly West. “Today, this is Aldous Huxley’s brave new world!” Antonov says, shaking his fist. “I ask my students all the time: Can two stools give birth to something? So it is with two homosexualists&mdashwhat can they birth? Nothing.”
Antonov has been influencing Russian lawmakers for decades. When Yeltsin came to power in 1991, he helped push for a formal ministry on the family. In 2010, Antonov helped draft a report advocating that Russians adopt three-child families as the norm&mdasha position the Putin administration recently embraced. (“Putin is repeating our words,” he boasts.) Recently, he’s written academic articles backing anti-gay legislation and has spoken to Mizulina’s committee against gay adoption.
“Unlike other European countries, we refused to ratify proposals supporting adoption of children by gays,” he says. “The World Congress was happy that Putin stood up against the European governments. It’s our influence on Putin and his administration.”
The WCF’s Moscow Money man
Antonov remains influential in WCF, but today, it is one of his Ph.D. students, Alexey Komov, who is the organization’s official Russia representative, chair of its 2014 Moscow conference planning committee, and main link to several key oligarchs backing the family agenda.
Komov has an unorthodox history for a family values crusader. A former Moscow nightclub owner, Komov spent years studying yoga with a renowned guru and traveling the world&mdashIndia, Tibet, Mongolia, Israel&mdashtrying out different religions. “I still know many stars, and some of the best nightclub owners,” Komov tells me when we meet. “I was liberal. I experimented. But if you do drugs or you start to be promiscuous, or this and that, it weakens you at the end of the day.”
When Komov’s guru was diagnosed with cancer a decade ago, it shattered the teacher’s faith that yoga would fend off disease. He declared yoga “satanic,” was baptized in the Orthodox Church, and became a monk. “I was at his funeral,” Komov says, tracing his decision to begin studying theology to that day. He started going to one of Archpriest Dmitri’s congregations, and the two became friends. Soon Komov was traveling in the most elite circles of the Russian Orthodoxy.
About a year after his transformation, the Russian Orthodox Church dispatched Komov to the 2010 World Congress planning meeting at the Colorado Springs offices of Focus on the Family. There, representatives from around the world presented bids to host the next World Congress. Komov brought a polished pitch for Moscow, but the group voted to give the next Congress to Madrid. “There was still a lot of mistrust of Russia,” says Larry Jacobs. “So we said, ‘Prove it to us.'” They asked him to organize a different event, and nine months later, the Moscow Demographic Summit hosted more than 1,000 attendees, many of them WCF regulars&mdashCarlson, Jacobs, Antonov&mdashand Americans from the religious right. The day after the summit, Mizulina introduced the first package of anti-abortion laws in Russia since the USSR’s collapse. “We just saw incredible results,” Jacobs says.
I meet Komov at Marshall, one of Russia’s largest private equity investment firms, in a Moscow complex that is part corporate suites&mdashincluding outposts of Shell, ExxonMobil, and many Russian-owned oil and gas companies&mdashand part high-end shopping mall. (A Maserati dealership borders the front entrance.) When I get upstairs, a towering blonde in stilettos leads me to one of the firm’s ornate conference rooms, where the walls are lined with sketched portraits of famous Russians&mdashmainly old nobility and many, many Orthodox priests.
When I ask why we’re meeting here, Komov&mdashwho went to high school in London and business school in the United States&mdashpushes back in near-perfect English: “You should not mention Marshall. I just happened to come here, but there’s no special meaning. I just have many friends.”
Those friends have proven helpful to WCF. “He has appointments, connections with the Orthodox Church and with several wealthy Russian leaders who are also Christians,” Carlson explains. Specifically, two Orthodox Russian billionaires who are footing many of the WCF’s Russia bills: Vladimir Yakunin, the president of the Russian railways and a Putin adviser (and possible successor), and Konstantin Malofeev, an Orthodox philanthropist who happens to be the founder and managing partner of Marshall, the firm whose conference room we’re sitting in.
The 42-year-old Komov seems like exactly the kind of guy you’d want running your fundraising operation: handsome, fashionable, charming, and, most importantly, a shining example of the WCF credo: married, a regular churchgoer, and father of to five kids.
“As Russians, we want to warn people in the West of the dangers of this new totalitarianism,” he says. “There are influential lobbies that want to promote an aggressive social transformation campaign using LGBT activists as the means. We see it as the continuation of the same radical revolutionary agenda that cost so many lives in the Soviet Union, when they destroyed churches. This political correctness is used and will be further used to oppress religious freedoms and to destroy the family.”
Komov’s own organization, FamilyPolicy.ru, is an official partner of the WCF, and has emerged as a key nexus for family organizing in Russia. In 2012, Komov and a FamilyPolicy colleague were invited to plan a family values forum hosted by Elena Mizulina In September of the same year, she asked FamilyPolicy.ru for their comments on a draft bill making it easier for the state to monitor households with children for “conditions that negatively affect their behavior.”
On top of his jam-packed advocacy schedule, Komov is the founder and director of Integrity Consulting&mdashhe calls it “a little McKinsey”&mdashwhich offers a variety of services, from business development to market research, to big-time clients like Gazprom, Phillip Morris, Sprint, JP Morgan, and a slew of other US companies. Larry Jacobs is a partner, though he says he draws no salary, describing the title as a flourish to signal financial expertise when he and Komov consult with family values startups outside of Russia.
Which brings us to the finances of the WCF. IRS documents from 2011 show that the Howard Center, the WCF’s parent organization, has a budget of just $650,000. According to Jacobs, only $180,000 of that goes to WCF. As a shoestring operation, Carlson says, the WCF has long relied on outside funding for its conferences.
Malofeev has pledged to pay for two-thirds of the 2014 World Congress, which will be held in Moscow this September. He funds the largest Orthodox charity in Russia, the St. Basil the Great Charity Foundation, which has an annual budget of more than $40 million. He also owns a 10 percent stake in Rostelecom, Russia’s largest telecommunications company and a Sochi Olympics general partner. In recent years, Malofeev has called for conservative versions of Facebook, Wikipedia, and Google, while his advocacy campaign, the Safe Internet League, has pushed to limit Russian internet users’ access to everything but a group of preapproved sites. (Three major Russian mobile providers have joined the league, as has the CEO of the country’s largest web portal. )
Arguably even more powerful is Yakunin. He’s old friends with President Putin dating back to their work with the Gorbachev administration in the s&mdashPutin with the KGB, Yakunin as a diplomat. As head of the state railways, Yakunin has overseen $7 billion worth of Olympic infrastructure initiatives of the roughly two dozen projects, the most expensive was a now-infamous $8.7 billion road that, Russian Esquire calculated, would have been cheaper had it been paved with caviar.
Yakunin helped pay for the WCF’s 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit, and his fortune has funded a variety of Orthodox charities supporting the family movement. Back in 2009, he gave $50 million to start an endowment for the Russian Orthodox Church. This past spring, Yakunin launched another endowment fund to generate capital for three organizations&mdashtwo of his Orthodox charities, and the Sanctity of Motherhood group, whose board is chaired by his wife Natalia.
When I attended the third annual Sanctity of Motherhood conference at the Moscow headquarters of RIA Novosti (one of Russia’s main news agencies) in November, WCF’s Russian allies were all in attendance&mdashthe Yakunins, of course, as well as Komov, Antonov, and Archpriest Dmitri.
In one of the four auditoriums, Elena Mizulina was speaking about the need for government regulation to ensure pro-family messaging in media. Upstairs, in the largest hall, Jack Hanick, the former Fox News producer, gave a talk.
“Some of the world thinks that the definition of family is changing,” Jacobs said from the stage during the closing ceremony. “But I have good news. As God created, the family has been, is now, and forever will be the same!”
And the WCF is doing its part to make sure that is the case&mdashin ever bigger and better venues. The first day of the 2014 Congress, September 10, will be at the Kremlin, before the delegates return to the place where all of this began in 2010&mdashMoscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. Like-minded advocates from around the world will attend a parliamentary forum at the Duma with Mizulina, a workshop on Russia’s propaganda law, and a session on developing pro-family legislation. The day after the conference, delegates will be bused an hour and a half to visit Trinity Sergius Lavra, Russia’s most important monastery, where there are plans for a dinner served by some 300 monks.
The WCF and its Russian allies will no doubt be celebrating. Since the first time they held this gathering a mere four years ago, family policy in Russia has been transformed: Mizulina helped pass the first package of anti-abortion legislation since the USSR’s collapse, and her duo of laws stifling gay rights passed unanimously in both houses of parliament. This month, the administration further tightened her original adoption ban with a series of technical amendments. A bill to separate gay parents from their children, shelved as the Olympics drew closer, is widely expected to be reintroduced after the world’s gaze moves on.
Meanwhile the opponents&mdash”the homosexualists”&mdashhave receded from public view, holding hands less, getting beat up more, assembling fewer and smaller protests, and contemplating emigration in rising numbers. In just four years, due in no small part to the WCF, the family in Russia has become increasingly “natural.”
“The world is already looking at Russia as you’re hosting the Olympics,” Jacobs says pacing back and forth on stage during the closing ceremony of the Sanctity of Motherhood gathering, his voice rising. “Everyone will be watching. Everyone. Now in 2014, after the Olympics are over, they have a chance to watch what you will do to support families. And we need all of you to fill up that Kremlin hall with 5,000 people. So that you can say to the rest of the world: ‘Welcome to Russia!'”
This article was made possible by an exchange sponsored by the International Center for Journalists.
Thomas Quasthoff’s vocal art!
Thomas Quasthoff’s vocal art!
Thomas Quasthoff’s brilliant career on stage lasted four decades. The powerful German bass baritone went down in history as one of the best vocal musicians of the German composers along with Dietrich Fischer-Diskau (he called Quasthoff his direct heir in music).
Two albums by Thomas Quasthoff on Deutsche Grammophon and a performance of the "The Magic Horn of a Boy" cycle of Mahler gave him three Grammy Awards.
In 2012, Quasthoff retired as an opera singer and found himself in jazz.
Thomas Quasthoff’s first jazz album, The Jazz Album (Watch What Happens, released on Deutsche Grammophon in 2017, earned a lot of acclaim from listeners and critics and was nominated… Ещё