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Sergei Mikhailovich Slonimsky (Russian: Сергей Михайлович Слонимский) is a Russian and Soviet composer, pianist and musicologist.
He was born in 1932 in Leningrad, studied composition under Shebalin, Evlakhov, polyphony – under Nicolai Uspensky, the author of the reading book “Samples of Ancient Russian Vocal Art”, piano – under Artobolevskaya, Savshinsky, Nilsen.
Sergei Slonimsky is a professor at the St. Petersburg state conservatory named after Rimsky-Korsakov and Samara Pedagogical University, Winner of the Glinca state Prize and of the St. Petersburg Government Prize, Academician of the Russian Academy of Education, the People’s Artist of Russia.
The composer’s father was a Russian writer and an active member of the literary circle “The Serapion Brothers” – Mikhail Slonimsky (1897-1972); his uncle Nicolai Slonimsky (1894-1995) was a famous American musical expert, the author of fundamental musical encyclopedias; his father’s cousin Anthony Slonimsky (1895-1976) was a famous Polish poet and political dissident.
Sergey Slonimsky is the author of such operas as “Virinea” (1967), “The master and Margarita” (1972), “Mary Stuart” (1980), “Hamlet” (1990), “Tsar Ixion” (1993), “Ioann the Terrible’s vision” (1995); of ten symphonies (The Tenth – “Circles of Hell” after Dante – recorded on CD in Russia), the ballet “Icarus”.
“Virinea” was staged in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samara, Perm; his opera “The Master and Margarita (chronologically the first adaptation for stage of Bulgakov’s novel) had been prohibited for stage during seventeen years after the performance of the first act in the Leningrad House of Composers conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. “Mary Stuart” was staged in Samara, St. Petersburg, Leipzig, Olomouts, Alma-Ata. Dramma per musica “Hamlet” is on in Samara and Krasnoyarsk. The ballet “Icarus” was shown in Bolshoi Theatre, on the stage of the Kremlin Palace of Congress (choreographer and performer – Vladimir Vassiliev), in the Mariimsky Theatre of St. Petersburg (choreographer Igor Belsky) and in Brno (choreographer Daniel Visner).
Sergei Slonimsky the author of more than a hundred compositions, among them – Concerto-Buffo (performed several times in the USA and England conducted by Yuri Temirkanov), Organ, Violin, Oboe, Balalaika, Electric Guitar Concerts, recently finished Piano Concert (“Jewish Rhapsody”), Cello Concert, 24 preludes and fuges, which are played in Russia and abroad and are in the pedagogical and concert repertoire of pianists.
Theatre and symphony opuses of the composer were perfomed by such famous conductors as Kondrashin, Yansons, Grikurov, Rozhdestvensky, Chernushenko, Sinaisky, Simonov, Ermler, Chistyakov, Talmi, Krents, Class, Sondetskis, Dalgat, Nesterov, Provatorov, Kovalenko, Shcherbakov and many others.
One of the new compositions by Slonimsky is “Petersburg’s Visions” after Dostoevsky was perfomed by Yuri Temirkanov in eight cities of the USA, including New York (Carnegi Hall), Boston, San-Fransisco, Los-Angeles in 1996.
Slonimsky is also the author of many vocal compositions: the cantata “Songs of Freedom” based on Russian folk songs (1959); “A Voice from the Chorus”, words by A. Block (1963); “Song of Song of Solomon” (1973); “One Day of Life of ancient Indian book Dhammapada” (1998; this cantata is dedicated to Alfred Shnitke, Slonimsky’s close friend); “David’s Psalms” (1968); “Minstrel Songs” (1975); chamber vocal ensembles lyrics by Akhmatova, Brodsky, Kushner, Rein, Kharms, Antony Slonimsky. In the list of his works there are sonatas – Piano, Violin, Cello, Viola suite, Piano pieces for children; music to the filmes by G. Poloka “SHKID Republic” and “Intervention” (Vladimir Vysotsky, who plays the main character, sings the song by Slonimsky in this film); by F. Emler “Before the Court of History” (Monologue of the Russian anarchist Shulgin).
In the 1960-1970s Slonimsky went to several folklore expeditions to the Novgorod, Pskov, Leningrade, Perm regions, he recorded a lot of texts and melodies of ancient and modern Russians folk songs. The composer is a constant organiser of a cycle charity concerts in the Peterburg Fund of Culture, reviving unjustly forgotten works by Russian composers from Balakirev to Shcherbakov, Shebalin, Klusner, Prigozhin.
Slonimsky finds congenial fantastic realism, “black” humour and tragic grotesque of such classical writers of Russian art as Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Bulgakov, Kharms, Zoshchenko. In some of his compositions he follows the style of avantgarde music (“Antiphones” for String Quartet, “Polish Verses” , “Dialogues” for Wind Quartet, “Concerto-Buffo”, “Colour Fantasy”,simphonic poems “Appolo and Mars”, “Peterburg Visiors”, “The Tenth Symphony” and other opuses. In most of his prominent works Slonimsky strives for creative refraction of untouched archaic layers of Russian “melos”.
Sergei Slonimsky constantly lives in St. Peterburg. Characteristic features of Peterburg culture one felt in his works.
Frow the begining of the 70’s the composer has worked in cooperation with theatres, the Philharmonic Hall, the Pedagogical University and Samara musical college. The festival dedicated to the music of Slonimsky was held in the old Russian town of Samara in 1994. In 1999 the world first night of “Ioann the Terrible’s vision” took place in Samara, staged by Robert Sturua under the musical conduction of Mstislav Rostropovich. The house was full 13 times during 3 months of 1999 and is on with great success.
Slonimsky often takes part in concerts of young musicians and children, he composes music as a pianist-improvisator, reviving the old tradition of improvisation on the philharmonic stage.
The defining feature of Slonimsky’s creative activity is universality. This is evident, above all in complete freedom of national cultures, historical periods, expressive means with the range and diversity of the individual style.
The content of S. Slonimsky’s creative work is amazingly diverse. According to Yu. Kholopov, in the art of Slonimsky one can notice a kind of “poly-art” concept of “numerous spaces”. “It’s not just a variety but crossing of spaces of our art, covering distances between widely scattered polarities”.
The defining feature of Sergey Slonimsky’s art is its universal character. V.N. Kholopova thinks that the series of continuous artistic triumphs are operas by Slonimsky. “S.M. has found such personal secret keys to the musical stage that it appeared he has no followers. His plots are dramas and tragedies of nations, tsars, kings, Master, Margaret, Jeshua. The main characters are exclusive, lofty, and utmost when carrying their ideas. From his encyclopedic knowledge stores Slonimsky chooses for every opera an exclusive genre pattern for every opera and creates its unique musical and intonation individuality with his incomprehensible intuition”.
“Each of his new work is a discovery, a revelation. One is amazed with the skills of the artist who is so diverse in intonation and style depending on a theme, epoch and character chosen and at the same time stays himself, is always recognizable by special touch, melodic, harmonic, rhythmic constructions. One can’t but hear Slonimsky in combination of a major sixth chord sung around by a minor triad; in octave “split” into tritone, minor second and perfect fourth (f2 – b1 – h1 – f2). Can’t you easily recognize his quaintly syncopated rhythmics becoming now awkward, now exquisite and graceful, now derisive and lively, now hard and even threatening?” (T.S. Bershadskaya)
“Rich imagination, lightness and quickness of art seem all by themselves presuppose joy, Rossini’s sunlight (“ravishing Rossini”), classical optimism and balance. No at all! Most of Slonimsky’s big works are tragic. They don’t even contain a catharsis of the author’s epilogues. Catharsis is supposed in the hearts of the audience as an epilogue of a work of art. Spirit of tragedy is in combination with irony, sarcasm, grotesque comedy. Such is a stereotype, an invariant of plots of “Virinea”, “Master and Margaret”, “Hamlet”, “Visions of Ivan the Terrible”, “King Lear”. But all this also can be found in operas by Musorgsky, Shostakovich and where not. Uncrossable borderline between Musorgsky and Slonimsky lies not in the plot or verbal dramaturgy but in the origin of music, in specific features of musical style and musical dramaturgy. The language of Slonimsky is different, neither better nor worse, just different – his personal and unique.” (E.A. Ruchievskaya)
“A special feature of Slonimsky making work with him fascinating is unexpectedness of a conception. Slonimsky, a man with the experience of the terrible XX century, tries to comprehend the very essence of the world historical lesson. For him human passions and politics are indivisible, personal tragedies are firmly built into the tragedy of the society.
Musical element of the operas by Slonimsky creates a special historysophical model of the events and gives an opportunity to see what neither science nor literature is not able to represent”. (Ya. Gordin)
“ Sergey Slonimsky is an important page in the history of Russian music without which it would be incomplete and less contradictory. Slonimsky is always new but he always stays himself. In the nervous presence of Sergey Slonimsky I feel quiet and confident. You feel so when there is a friend by your side.” (A.Eshpai)
“Every time I hear the musical voice of Sergey Slonimsky I have almost childish feeling: “Everything is all right so far, we haven’t lost our way” (S.Gubaidulina)
“An amazing workability, productivity. A stunning intelligence. The widest erudition. An infecting activity and energy. And all this is contained in one person named Sergey Slonimsky” (R.Lednev)
“It’s very difficult to name a contemporary composer who would so successfully appeal in his art practically to all existing now classical and modern musical genres “. (A.Petrov)
Works by S.Slonimsky are often being performed in Russia and abroad in the course of several decades. His works for children are constantly in the curriculum of musical schools.
Now Sergey Slonimsky is at the peak of his creative ability, he is full of new ideas and deeds.
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