Novosibirsk pianist speaks out against repression

19 March 2021

A concert in Novosibirsk dedicated to Vera Lotar-Shevchenko — a pianist who was a victim of Stalin’s purges — drew media attention earlier this week, after one of its musicians spoke out against “the repression machinery” in today’s Russia.

Dedicated to the 120th anniversary of the birth of Lotar-Shevchenko, the concert was held on 16 March at the Novosibirsk Philharmonic. At the end of the performance, pianist Timofey Kazantsev used the opportunity to denounce the Russian state’s recent mass political arrests, to the audience’s applause. He then posted the video of the performance and speech on his Youtube channel.

“Today’s event isn’t just cultural,” Kazantsev said. “It is also political, because we condemn the repressive machine that broke the life of [Lotar-Shevchenko],” he added. “It seems to me quite logical that at an event like this, it is worth saying — and this is easiest for me to say, because today I do not represent either the Philharmonic or any other organisation — that a large-scale political repression machine is currently operating in Russia,” Kazantsev declared.

Furthermore, he asked the public to sign a letter of support for activist Yana Drobnokhod, who was in solitary confinement for 30 days for participating in rallies backing the arrested ex-governor of Khabarovsk, Sergei Furgal.

After an employee of the Philharmonic came on stage and told the musician “to go away”, members of the audience shouted: “let him speak”.

The Philharmonic dissociated itself from Kazantsev’s speech at the end of the event.

“If you know what you’re going to say isn’t illegal, then why not say it?” Kazantsev told The Calvert Journal. “You only have one chance to do something like this.”

Kazantsev compares the risk of speaking out to Beethoven’s last sonata, number 32, opus 111, with which he had ended the performance. “You will either get a response from the audience, or it will end badly. There is a similar feeling in Beethoven: the first part of the sonata is filled with great, real struggle. But this is one of the few sonatas which has a very special ending. I would like for us to come to a similar ending: for Russia to have its own Arietta.”

“I made a bet on the audience of the Philharmonic by speaking out in support of Yana. Her case is ‘black and white’. She was in solitary confinement without any proper reason,” Kazantsev added.

Following a trial on 18 March, Drobnokhod was fined but not imprisoned, so she was able to return to her husband and three children. Outside the court, 70 people demonstrated in her support, including Kazantsev, who met her there for the first time.

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