Exiles on Rodeo Drive

by Gerald Carpenter

RUSSIAN REFUGEE: The next world-class ensemble
brought to our town by the Community Arts Music
Association
will be the Russian National
Orchestra
, conducted by its founder and artistic director,
Mikhail Pletnev. The orchestra will play a concert
in the Arlington on Saturday, March 25, at 8 p.m. The all-Russian
program consists of two works by Sergei
Rachmaninov
 — the exquisite Vocalise and the overwhelming
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor (with Alexander
Mogilevsky
, piano soloist), and one work by Peter
Tchaikovsky
, his Suite No. 3 in G Major, Opus 55. For
tickets, call CAMA at 966-4324 or the Arlington at 963-4408.

The late, irreplaceable I. F. Stone, when he was describing how
he came to begin writing in support of the dispossessed
Palestinians, admitted, “in the first place, I’m a sucker for
refugees.”

Me, too, I’m afraid — even when, like Rachmaninov, they were
comfortable and loved in exile, instead of miserable and despised.
No matter how well set up they were in foreign lands, Rachmaninov,
Thomas Mann, and Albert Einstein
were celebrities, and never had to hustle or scam. But they still
could not do the one thing they wanted to more than anything: go
home.

Exile was a kind of fundamental condition in most of the 20th
century, as addiction has become a fundamental condition of the
21st. And I mean fundamental for artists and intellectuals. Modern
art is the creation of exiles and expatriates. James
Joyce
wrote a play called Exiles and a novel called
Ulysses and spent several years teaching English in Trieste. It
could have been consideration of Joyce that led Georg
Lukács
to write that “…the novel form is, like no other,
an expression of this transcendental homelessness.”

Rachmaninov is the poet of lost history. His music is steeped in
grief. Life is always snatching things away, just when we are
awakening to their possibilities. Self-pity doesn’t really come
into it.

It is with something of a start when we realize that all this
“utopia of hopeless melancholy” (as Robert Craft
characterizes Rachmaninov’s music) was written before the
revolution, before he had to leave Russia, never to return. He
composed his Third Piano Concerto to play on his 1909 American
tour — which he had undertaken to make enough money to buy an
automobile.

So, if it wasn’t the Revolution that gave him his tragic sense
of life, what was it? His birth as a Russian?

Rachmaninov was a shy, affectionate man, who loved spending time
with his family and family friends. There are tons of photos of him
beaming with a granddaughter or daughter on his arm. In an official
bio of the composer for an omnibus set of his recordings, we learn
of the widespread musicality of Rachmaninov’s family: “…and his
sister, Helena, who died in adolescence, is said to have been an
extraordinarily talented singer.”

The writer was perhaps an only child. The fact that Helena died
was less interesting than the fact she could sing. I’ll bet it was
the other way around for Rachmaninov.

The dynamic Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra and
its compelling conductor Heiichiro Ohyama take a
break from its “Mostly Mozart” celebrations with a Tuesday, March
28, concert at the Lobero Theatre that contains no Mozart at all
(unless something gets in the encore).

The Chamber Orchestra will play two works: Ludwig
Beethoven
’s Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Opus 93, and
Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus
77, with the impressive violinist Cho-Liang Lin,
going solo when appropriate. For tickets to this concert, call
963-0761.

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