In 1958, at the height of his artistic ability and reputation, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich was invited by Oxford University to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Music, along with fellow musician Francis Poulenc and other dignitaries. From the initial invitation by Oxford to Shostakovich in Moscow, the story is a fascinating, humorous and poignant portrayal of the clash of two distinct, and distinctly insular, worlds: the Byzantine rituals and orotundity of Oxford University and the unsmiling officialdom of Soviet Russia. When Shostakovich finally arrives in Oxford for his three-day stay, hosted by Isaiah and Aline Berlin, we are presented not only with a unique insight into the inner personalities of Shostakovich, Poulenc, Berlin and others, but also a searing reminder of the value of art in the Cold War period.
The play, directed by acclaimed theatre director Victor Sobchak, is based on the official correspondence and telegrams surrounding the visit, first published by Dr Lewis Owens in 2004, including Berlin’s astonishing ruminations on the significance of Shostakovich’s visit. This story has never been staged before and is followed by a recital of the Shostakovich and Poulenc Cello Sonatas by internationally acclaimed musicians Colin Stone (piano) and Leonid Gorokhov (cello).
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