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11 Arts Organizations To Collaborate In 'Soviet Experience'

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 12, 2010 8:20PM

"Communism means Soviets, plus the electrification ofthe whole country" by Mikhail Baljasnij (Image courtesy of the Block Museum)
Leaders of several local arts organizations announced preliminary details of "The Soviet Experience," a fourteen-month-long multidisciplinary festival beginning in October, 2010, and continuing through December, 2011. Eleven different institutions will present works by visual artists, choreographers, composers, and dramatists who lived under the stifling Politburo.

The participating groups include music ensembles and programs (University of Chicago Presents, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Opera Theater, Harris Theater, Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and the University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra), art museums (Art Institute, Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, and the Smart Museum), the Court Theatre, and the Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago Library. More groups are expected be added this fall as the festival's planning continues.

There's no extra-artistic reason for the festival (next year's twentieth anniversary of the USSR's dissolution is just a coincidence). Instead, the catalyst was the decision by the Grammy Award-winning, Illinois-based Pacifica Quartet to perform all fifteen of Dmitri Shostakovich's string quartets. It's a monumental undertaking - it's actually Chicago's first time hosting the entire cycle - so Shauna Quill, Executive Director of University of Chicago Presents, the concert series in which Pacifica is an artist-in-residence, contacted U of C professors of Russian, Slavic studies, art history, and music to plan additional activities around the quartet's performances. The idea spread through the local arts community, and other groups signed on to participate with already-planned, relevant programming, as well as events developed specifically for the festival.

Forty-eight performances and exhibitions at twelve different venues have already been planned, with more on the way. We have some highlights after the jump.


  • As you'd expect, there'll be a heavy dose of Shostakovich. In addition to the string quartets, there will also be performances of the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Fifteenth, and Chamber Symphonies, First Violin Concerto, First Cello Concerto, the musical "Moscow, Cheryomushki", the suite from "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District," and various film scores and chamber music.
  • As you'd also expect, there'll be plenty of Sergei Prokofiev's music, too, including his Fifth Symphony (which will also be presented as part of the CSO's Beyond the Score series, a full ballet presentation of "Romeo and Juliet," and the First Violin Concerto.
Visual Art

  • The Art Institute's "Windows on the War" exhibit: six-foot-tall wartime posters given to the museum in the 1940s by our ally on the Eastern Front but placed in storage until discovered during renovations in 1997.