Scenes of musical life in stalinist Russia. Between 1917 and 1990, the Soviet Union was the setting for a fascinating paradox upon which this film will attempt to shed some light. Against a backdrop of extreme hardship, indeed terror, there developed one of the most intense and rich musical arenas of the 20th century. Major composers, virtuoso performers, the most prestigious orchestras displayed their talent throughout these 70 years, in situations that were dangerous and precarious, often grotesque and always extreme
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky: Conductor or Conjuror?
Rather than a profile, this is a documentary about a conductor discussing and analysing what he knows best: the art of conducting. Featuring the following works: Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony (masterclasses, rehearsals with students from the Moscow Conservatory and Zurich’s Tonhalle orchestra, archival clips), Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and Schnittke’s Deal Souls
Language: French (Dolby Digital 2.0), English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles: English, French
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of Discs: 1
DVD Release Date: February 26, 2008
Run Time: 155 minutes
“By starting with the elegiac big tune of Zdravitsa, Prokofiev's toast to Stalin's 60th birthday. Bruno Monsaingeon's The Red Baton threatens to follow an all too familiar path, tormenting the ghosts of the Soviet Union's leading composers with their most compromising party-pieces. Yet... what we hear are the Russian geniuses' darkest, most dangerous scores. Monsaingeon's film is full... spotlights Rozhdestvensky as a spokesman of scathing Gogolia irony. Conducting, he says, is all charisma and a highly professional art; you arrive at rehearsals with the score in your head, assess the orchestra's capabilities and do the bare minimum, saving inspiration for the concert.”
“Don't be deceived by the packaging or the DVD menu. Here, directed by Bruno Monsaingeon, are two 55-minute documentaries and two complete performances. In The Red Baton he has assembled Soviet archive footage and interviews with surviving players to remind us of the realities of music-making in an era so remote as to be incomprehensible even to today's Russians. For once there is no theory being proved or disproved. Against a background of ceaseless bureaucratic interference, graduating at times to naked terror, paradoxically there developed a musical culture among the richest and most intense of the 20th century. That great survivor (and dissembler) Tikhon Khrennikov makes a cameo appearance but the bulk of recent testimony comes from Rudolf Barshai, who emigrated in the 1970s, and Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, who stayed to champion an inner world of music in which everyone could feel free. The second film shows Rozhdestvensky in action at various stages of his career, accompanying the big beasts of Soviet music, defending himself against the familiar charge of underrehearsal and passing on his accumulated experience to a variety of orchestras and student practitioners. It says something that the love theme of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet still reduces him to tears. The complete performances, oddly billed as bonus tracks, are equally fascinating, not least the rarely heard Prokofiev cantata Zdravitsa, an ode to Stalin too explicit to find favour today. Taped in an empty hall, the sopranos sing a little flat. The melodic content is, more embarrassingly, top-notch. The live rendition of the Schnittke, a film score souped up by Rozhdestvensky into a piece of performance art for himself, his orchestra and his wife, is surely the best record we have of a persona consciously designed to ensnare audiences and encourage musicians. The redoubtable Victoria Postnikova shines in a frantic parody of the octave cadenza from Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Contemplating the events of 1948 can evoke tears, laughter too at the absurdity of it all. Whether or not Rozhdestvensky's ironic detachment helped him survive, it has made him one of the last great individualistic maestros of our age. His baton is still long, its movements unpredictable when not discarded altogether. And, unlike Stalin, he does not use a podium. Strongly recommended.”
“Here, directed by Bruno Monsaingeon, are two 55-minute documentaries and two complete performances. In The Red Baton he has assembled Soviet archive footage and interviews with players to remind us of the realities of music-making in an era so remote as to be incomprehensible even to today's Russians. Strongly recommended.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.