Voices from Russia

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Virtuosos of Moscow: The Legendary Orchestra Turns Thirty

Filed under: art music,cultural,music,performing arts,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00


Maestro Vladimir Spivakov (1944- ), conductor of “The Virtuosos of Moscow” chamber orchestra, National Artist of Russia

A legendary orchestra, a model ensemble, a constellation of virtuosos, these are some of the ways that audiences throughout the world describe the chamber orchestra “The Virtuosos of Moscow”, as they go into raptures about the musicians’ performance. The renowned group is travelling extensively to perform in different countries to mark the 30th anniversary of their founding. The orchestra has 30 years of continual performance to packed houses to its credit, whether they performed in Europe, the Americas, or Asia. The Virtuosos of Moscow are proud of this fact, yet, they are certain that their most loyal admirers are in Russia.

“We have a common destiny with these fans”, the outstanding violinist Vladimir Spivakov claimed, who created the orchestra and has been its conductor. Maestro Spivakov said, “I think The Virtuosos of Moscow were successful not because they are exceptional as professionals or because their performance is so impeccably brilliant. We owe our success to the fact that we live the life of our country. This is not just a pompous statement, that’s a fact of life. The Virtuosos of Moscow have formed a part of the lives of millions of people; they’ve formed a part of the life of Russia. It is, perhaps, a small part, yet, one that’s interesting and important”.

Just as in the life of Russia, the history of The Virtuosos of Moscow cannot be reduced to just a string of triumphs. The orchestra lived through quite a few hardships since Vladimir Spivakov, an already famous violinist boasting international awards, brought together what were true coryphaeus of instrumental music performance. The situation was extraordinarily grave in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Soviet Union was falling apart, as hardly anyone in the USSR took an interest in classical music. The Virtuosos of Moscow had to move to Spain, yet, they remained a Russian orchestra both for the world and for themselves. They returned to their home country as soon as the situation changed for the better, specifically, in the late 1990s.

The world of culture pays tribute to the Moscow-based chamber orchestra not only as to a group of super-virtuoso musicians, but, as noble and responsive people. Many still remember their performance in Kiev in 1986, shortly after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, or their concert in the quake-destroyed city of Spitak in Armenia. The Virtuosos of Moscow see charity concerts as nothing out of the ordinary, and it is, perhaps, the young musicians in different countries who get daily assistance from the orchestra that know best about the importance of this kind of support.

Today, The Virtuosos of Moscow are nothing short of Russia’s cultural brand, an orchestra that personifies a quality sign. The musicians give up to 100 concerts a year and have for twenty years now been holding their international festival in Colmar, France, bringing together audiences from across Europe and the world at large. Anyone who has at least once enjoyed the performance of the orchestra will immediately recognise its bright and festive signature style.

4 November 2008

Voice of Russia World Service



“The Truth, Even if it is Bitter, Will Prevail with Time”: An Interview with Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov


Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov (1958- ), superior of the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, father-confessor to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his family

“How can peoples sharing the same Faith be on opposite sides of the battle-line? Do the First Hierarchs of the Local Orthodox Churches have the right to contradict the rulers of their national governments? Can the Church make a mistake? Can an illiterate person be a good and responsible Christian? Why did holiness become the exception rather than the norm?” These and other questions asked by Boris Klin of Izvestiya were answered by the head of Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery, Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov).


Boris Klin

Fr Tikhon, the Georgian Orthodox Church publicly supported the bringing of Georgian troops into South Ossetia and the political policy of Mikhail Saakashvili for the “restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity”. For many people in Russia, this came as a surprise. But, could the Georgian Church do otherwise? Must the national Local Churches always come forward in support of their government in armed conflicts?

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov

No, the Orthodox Church and its First Hierarchs do not always side with their government. The Orthodox Church should come forward on the side of God and the truth. That’s how it was in 1918, when Patriarch Tikhon anathematised the Soviet regime; or, in the 16th century, when Metropolitan Filipp Kolychev was murdered on the order of Ivan Grozny, specifically for his fearless denunciation of the lawless tsar. The Orthodox Church lives by the laws of divine Truth; it has no other laws. Regarding the current situation in the Caucasus, we cannot observe without great sorrow and bitterness how unscrupulous politicians ruthlessly and brutally manipulate an Orthodox people.

Boris Klin

In the case of politicians, it is no surprise. But, how can one understand the stand of the Georgian Church? People are accustomed to hearing, “The Church cannot make a mistake”. Or, are there exceptions?

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov

Individual people, including the highest hierarchs of the Church, can make mistakes; and history often records these sorrowful mistakes. Today, we in Russia may not agree with the announcements of the head of the Georgian Church or with his evaluation of the situation in this conflict. Of course, we certainly understand the conditions he is under, the one-sided and slanted information rampant in the Georgian media, the unprecedented heat of the nationalistic-patriotic rhetoric, and the inferiority complex which cannot help but be present in a country which is paying for the doomed escapade of its leaders. However, we expect that the truth, even if it is bitter, will prevail with time. I am convinced that the relations between our Orthodox peoples will soon revert to the correct Christian path; the potential is great for a strong relationship in future.

Boris Klin

Has it often happened in the history of Orthodoxy that the hierarchy of the Church has bent under pressure from the authorities?

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov

Has it often happened that a commander in war ordered a retreat in order to save his army and country? This is called strategy. But, there is another reaction to external pressure… betrayal. This can include the betrayal of the Faith; it is a completely different matter. In Russian history, I can recall only one First Hierarch of the Church, Metropolitan Isidor, who besmirched his name by betraying the Faith. He was banished from Russia.

Boris Klin

The current aggravation of relations between countries of the West and Russia, does it spring from a difference of ideology or is it an element in a short-lived political and economic competition?

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov

In very many ways, it is a collision of worldviews. The saying, “West is West, East is East, and never the twain shall meet” was made by a man not from Russia or the East, but, by a defender of Western civilisation and the Western imperial view. This is a particular perception that the West has of Russia and the whole Orthodox East.

Boris Klin

But, Orthodox countries such as Bulgaria and Greece have joined NATO….

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov


Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaevich Enters Trnovo in 1877 (Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky, 1885)

In World War I, for example, Bulgaria was not on the side of Orthodox Russia. It was the same during World War II. This was so, although, only a few decades earlier, Russian troops won freedom and political independence for Bulgaria with a tremendous sacrifice of their own lives. What can one say? In Orthodox families, it sometimes happens that close relatives behave in an unchristian way. But, this is not the norm; it’s simply a picture of our fallen world.

Boris Klin

Fr Tikhon, the debate over your film about Byzantium has not died down. On the eve of the “Teffi” television awards, TV critics expressed their disapproval of this film. But, as I see it, the discussions often descend into mere historical nitpicking and an analysis of its political associations. If you will permit me, I’d prefer a topic that seems to me more important, the relation of Church and State in Byzantium. Archpriest Alexander Schmemann, in his book The Historical Road of Orthodoxy, remarked that, in the Byzantine era, the Church, having entered into an alliance with the government, became popular amongst the masses. But, her “quality”, so to speak, changed for the worse. Holiness, as the norm of life in the early Christian, apostolic communities, became something of an exception in Byzantium. Did the Church act properly in making concessions to human weaknesses?

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov

Fr Alexander Schmemann’s negative attitude toward symfonia is simply his personal idiosyncrasy. Many great fathers of the Church made a completely different appraisal of the symfonia between Church and state. In symfonia, of course, there are both negative and positive aspects. Between the Orthodox government and the Orthodox Church there was co-operation and concerted creative work. Sometimes, it was at a cost, of course. Does it happen otherwise? Symfonia can be ridiculed, but, we can also see its unquestionable merits.

Of course, the early Christians led a special life. But, to say that holiness then was the norm is possible only in the sense that holiness for the Church is the norm for all times. One shouldn’t idealise this or that historical period, even the period of the early Christian communities. For a more down-to-earth view of that period, it is enough to reread the New Testament Epistles and the book of Revelation.

Boris Klin

You spoke about the great need for books to be written for people who are uninstructed in the Faith. But, to be both baptised and uninstructed… isn’t that a contradiction in terms, an anomaly?

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov

People who are baptised, but, who have not entered into the life of the Church are one of our biggest problems. But, I wouldn’t want to judge hastily about this, or infer, as is often now done, that uncatechised people are inferior Christians, or are not even Christians at all.

Recently, I happened to be in Bulgaria, and I heard there a story from the 18th century. One day, some Turks came to a certain Bulgarian village. They took up residence with a large family of Bulgarians. It was Good Friday. For the Turks, the Bulgarians prepared the accustomed Turkish food, but, the Orthodox family would not eat meat. “Why?” Those uneducated Bulgarian peasants couldn’t explain. They were only able to tell the Turks, “When they celebrate in Church the Resurrection of Christ and bless our decorated eggs, then, we will eat meat”. This did not please the Turks. They tried to get the Bulgarians to eat meat under torture, but, they refused. The men were killed the next day. Their wives were shut up in prison, where they were kept for a full ten years. After this time was up, the women were summoned again and ordered to eat meat during a fast. One woman broke down and converted to Islam. The second woman refused. She remained a Christian, and they killed her.

What is the point here? Was it a concern for ritual convention or did we see a genuine relationship with God present here? From the point of view of some people (not only atheists, but, also some “educated Christians”), this is the irrational zeal of semi-literates, who do not understand the true and vital values behind human life. For others, this is the podvig of true Christians, not denying Christ or their Faith even under torture. The question here, of course, is not about meat.

I would not be too dramatic about the situation with uncatechised people. Of course, glory to God, much is being done, including by our monastery, by our publishing department, to instruct people in the Faith. This is essential. But, if you only knew how many people I have met who are uneducated in religious concepts and who have not taken interminable dilettantish catechetical classes, but, sincerely love God, know Him, and are faithful to Him! The Lord searches for precisely such people.

Boris Klin

Fr Tikhon, some priests say that the hurricane and the financial crisis in America are divine punishment for its actions against Russia. This topic is being discussed so keenly that I can’t help but ask you the question, “Is it really divine punishment?”

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov

To be truthful, I am more interested in whether we are pondering over the causes of our own crises and disasters. That would be more useful and important than pondering over what is happening in places like Honduras or America.

26 September 2008

Izvestiya (Proceedings)

As quoted in Pravoslavie.ru



Editor’s Note:


Mr Bird reads the riot act to the Pravoslavie.ru translator. Don’t leave anything out the next time!

In the seventh answer of Archimandrite Tikhon, where he speaks of the Bulgarians who were killed by the Turks for refusing to eat meat during a fast, two sentences are missing from the English translation. The omitted portion was, “This did not please the Turks. They tried to get the Bulgarians to eat meat under torture, but, they refused”. This came right before “The men were killed the next day”. Does this merit a Big Green Weenie Award? Perhaps, not. The rest of the translation was competent. However… it could earn a scolding from Mr Bird or a razzing from the San Diego Chicken.

The rubber truly hits the road in answers six and seven. In answer six, Archimandrite Tikhon blows Alexander Schmemann out of the water. He uses a word that can be translated “idiosyncrasy”, and his contempt for that pseudo-scholar is clear and evident. The Pravoslavie translator used “synergy” where “symfonia” would be more accurate. “Synergy” is a more correct rendering of “synergeia”, which is a different concept altogether. Synergy is the cooperation of God and man, whereas symfonia speaks to the relationship of two human institutions, the government and the Church. I argue that this is not a fine distinction.

Archimandrite Tikhon also pours out his scorn on those who idealise the “early church” and are constantly quoting this or that Father to prove their “erudition”. No era of the Church was free of spot and stain; I would make the observation that sinful-ginful humanity has always been bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and that shocking doings perpetrated by the usual cast of slim shadies went on at all times and in all climes. The recent converts who expatiate on the early church should just shut up and spare us all the grief. If the church has changed since the 4th century, there is probably good reason for it. Our ancestors were NOT stupid; they left us a perfectly-good Church. It is our task to pass it on to the next generation, so they can do likewise…

Archimandrite Tikhon discharges the blunderbuss in answer seven. “But, if you only knew how many people I have met who are uneducated in religious concepts and who have not taken interminable dilettantish catechetical classes, but, sincerely love God, know Him, and are faithful to Him! The Lord searches for precisely such people”.


God wants Christians who stand tall for the Faith and who know they are “just plain folks”, just as sinful-ginful as the next person. I know about sinful people. I am one… who isn’t? God knows who He is. He does not need someone to define his essence down to the nth degree (such is an impossible fool’s errand, in any case). My advice to all the novices, neophytes, and recent-arrivals is simple. When you enter the church, it is day one. Therefore, concentrate on prayer, good deeds, and the Mysteries. If someone tries to push you into seminary, resist them. If you feel the itch to go to seminary, resist it. Is that all? You bet… it’s enough. God wants a clean heart, not a stuffed head. Archimandrite Tikhon makes that clear, and, for that, he deserves a heart-felt and sincere “Well Done!”


Our Russian Tennis Players were the Heroines of the Outgoing Year

Filed under: Russian,sport — 01varvara @ 00.00


Yelena Dementieva (1981- ), two-time Olympic medallist in women’s singles (gold in 2008)

Our Russian tennis players outdid themselves in the outgoing year. The traditional ceremony noting the best players of the year, the Russki Kubok (Russian Chalice), had two heroines this year. The Triumfom Goda (Triumph of the Year) award went to Yelena Dementieva for her victory at the Olympics and the Proryv Goda (Breakthrough of the Year) award went to Dinara Safina. In recent times, not one prestigious tennis tournament finishes without at least one Russian woman amongst the finalists. Indeed, half of the places on the top 20 list of the best tennis players in the world belong to our women. However, after the Beijing Olympics, where our women nearly monopolised the winners’ podium, a joke began to circulate, “Well, the current Russian Open just ended in Beijing. One Chinese woman was invited to compete (a reference to Na Li, who won the bronze in a match won by Vera Zvonaryova)”. In addition, both Yelena Dementieva and Dinara Safina had stellar seasons.

In the tennis world, the name of Yelena Dementieva is known everywhere, and she never fails to make the list of the top ten tennis players at the end of the year. However, despite the skill and excellence of her game, when a big-time tournament comes up, she chokes up. Yes, she always makes the finals, but, she always appears to be second, an also-ran. This year at the Beijing Olympics, no one was betting on her winning the gold. Oh, yes… Yelena shall be amongst the medallists, the experts said, but, shall she win? Yelena surprised them all and took the gold, after eight years of disappointments. During the awards ceremony at the Russki Kubok, Yelena said, “I was overjoyed because my most-cherished dream finally happened. I am very happy, and I am in a simply marvellous mood. So many unforgettable emotions came to me this year. In the course of it all, I found that I was changing gradually. It began with my clothes. I used to favour ‘little black dresses’, but, now, I wanted to change my image. For tonight, I wanted something different, so, I went for this nice little green number”.


Dinara Safina (1986- ), won one Grand Slam title, the women’s doubles title at the 2007 US Open with Nathalie Dechy, and reached one Grand Slam singles final at the 2008 French Open. She also won an Olympic silver medal in women’s singles at the 2008 games in Beijing.

Before, when people spoke of Dinara Safina, it was always in connection with her brother, Marat Safin, who was formerly one of the top-seeded players. In a remarkable turnaround, one now hears that Marat is the brother of Dinara! No surprise, for she competed in three hard matches in Beijing within 24 hours and won them all. Dinara began this spectacular year in Berlin where won a match against Justine Henin, the top-seeded player in the world. After this defeat, Ms Henin announced her retirement, effective immediately, from tennis competition. It is thought that Ms Henin wished to retire after a smashing victory, but, Dinara had other plans. Dinara went on to win more matches against equally-distinguished opponents. She said, “I long strived to reach this level of game and, then, I finally began to win. Actually, for me, this was a breakthrough year, because I accomplished so much. Finally, I can say that I have made it”.

Finally, the Russki Kubok gave out an award for the best team of the year. The Russian National women’s team won yet again, as it was ranked the first amongst all such bodies in the world for the fourth time. Now, the tennis season is over, the scores have been tallied, so, the girls are going to rest until the middle of December, at least. Then, it’s back to work, new tournaments await, there are new victories and medals coming.

21 November 2008

Svetlana Andreyeva

Voice of Russia World Service


Russia’s Prize-Winning Figure-Skaters Share Their Experience with Their Younger Colleagues

Filed under: Russian,sport — 01varvara @ 00.00


Aleksei Yagudin (1980- ) was a 2002 Olympic champion, as well as a four-time World Champion, a two-time World Professional Figure Skating Champion, a three-time European Champion, and three-time Grand Prix Final gold medallist.

Russia’s prize-winning figure-skaters gave a series of workshops for athletic school students as part of a social program to share their experience with the young. The master classes were run by figure-skating stars Aleksei Yagudin, Irina Slutskaya, Tatiana Navka, Roman Kostomarov, and Ilya Averbukh. The first young star to emerge from the classes is ten-year-old Dima Ivanov from Kemerovo in Siberia. Dima Ivanov was five when he first came out on the ice. His parents, both professional choreographers, found it important for him to take up figure-skating. With seriousness so untypical for his age, Dima started training, and, in a short time, was far ahead of his peers and learning the basic techniques of the adults.

Today, Dima wins every regional championship and is dreaming of the national championship title, the European title, and an Olympic medal. His awards so far are the Crystal Ice Prize in the Nadezhda category and a two-week training class in Moscow with Yelena Vodorezova, a prominent figure-skater in the past, who is currently teaching young talents. She said, “Moscow is bound to open up new perspectives for Dima. He has won in the master classes, something which doesn’t happen often in one’s life, to say the least. I’m sure he won’t miss his chance. He won because he proved to be the strongest and I’ll do my best to train him in certain things. I hope he’ll go on to the top in figure-skating”.

Workshops on figure-skating held in 50 cities across Russia were attended by more than 2000 kids over a year. Under the programme, figure-skating schools were sent sound-tracks and the kids were to prepare their show numbers. As they toured Russia, the celebrated figure-skaters kept a close watch on the trainees, sharing their experiences, and, in every city, the ice show was opened by one of the students. Any child would consider it a great honour to stand next to the stars. According to Maksim Marinin, who won a medal in the 2006 Torino Olympics, this serves a powerful drive to score new victories. “The main target of the master classes is to spot talent. We set an example to inspire their interest and love for figure-skating, and we provide them with a good chance to fulfil themselves”.

Both skaters and coaches are happy to witness the unprecedented upsurge in figure-skating across Russia. As figure-skating schools examine a hundred hopefuls a day, there are grounds to believe that new stars will be sparkling on the Russian figure-skating horizon fairly soon.

14 October 2008

Svetlana Kalmykova

Voice of Russia World Service


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