Between Two Worlds: Alfred Schnittke Festival

From 15th November to 1st December Southbank Centre, Royal College of Music, Pushkin House and Deptford Town Hall have been hosts to a very interesting music festival in London celebrating the figure of Alfred Schnittke, a Russian composer of the generation of Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina, who left us an heterogeneous repertoire of music for films, concert halls and theatre.

The festival is titled Between Two Worlds, referring to the double cultural background of the composer who was born in a German family, spent his early years in Vienna and lived most of his life in Russia. As much influenced by the Russian avant-garde as by the Western classical and baroque traditions, the richness of his styles echoes Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich as well as Bach, Mahler, Berg and Schoenberg. He wrote sixty-six film scores, nine symphonies, three operas, chamber and choral music, ballets, concertos and sonatas for various instruments. Writing music for film was a common way for Soviet composers to support themselves. It also gave them freedom to experiment by bypassing censorship.

All Schnittke’s compositions, in their diversity and ‘polystylism’ – as their conjunction of styles was termed -, seem apt to rousing the imagination even when they are not accompanying films. It is enough to take a look at the short video promoting the festival which edits musical extracts from the Cello Concerto No 2, the Gogol Suite, and the Piano Concerto with a selection of animated images, to get a sense of this. It is available on the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s website (see link below).

Concerts, film screenings, talks, and a study day, have made this initiative a very successful event which for sixteen days has celebrated the “man in between”, as Schnittke has been defined, performing his works as well as those by composers important to him.

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