When the Dostoevskaya metro station opened on the gray line a couple of years ago – it’s located right next to the Russian Army Theater and a hop-skip-and-jump from the fabulous Ten’ (Shadow) Theater – it raised a veritable ruckus. Oh, there was all kinds of nonsense about how it was going to scare metro riders away, how it was going to create murderers with its portrait of Raskolnikov, and how it was going to foster suicide by encouraging young people to throw themselves on the tracks as trains were coming in. You get the picture. The typical damned nonsense that people write and say and think and propagate this crazy day and age. In fact, the entire underground part of the station, designed by Ivan Nikolayev, is a brilliant monument to the world of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels. What I particularly love is the way, for instance, that Nikolayev even gave a nod to Nikolai Gogol, the most important early influence on Dostoevsky. A Gogol-like figure depicted on the wall of the stairwell appears to be hurrying down to catch a train as actual riders pass him by. It’s a lovely touch, smart and witty. I also love the black, white and gray color scheme that suits Dostoevsky’s art so well.
Down on the actual platforms, mosaics on wide columns illustrate various scenes from Dostoevsky’s greatest novels. I happened to click my camera at two columns depicting the characters and events of Crime and Punishment, maybe because that was the first Dostoevsky novel I ever read way back when in another lifetime. For the record, I read Crime and Punishment on the heels of having read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina and I didn’t notice the slightest drop in quality. This was in high school. The 1970s had just gotten underway. That little bit aside, I should mention that I wrote about this wonderful metro station in a Moscow Times blog several years ago. Should the spirit move you, you can read that here.
The Joseph Brodsky monument in Moscow, located more or less across from the Fyodor Chaliapin house and the old U.S. embassy on Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya Street, seemed to me to come out of nowhere. I just happened to be walking along the street one day and there it was. Voice of Russia tells me it was unveiled in May 2011. I find it to be one of the most interesting sculptural complexes in Moscow, what with its added people in the background playing off the main character of Brodsky in the foreground.
Somebody might say that Brodsky here is something of a snob, with his nose in the air in regards to the smaller, faceless people around him, and that person might be right. Brodsky wasn’t one to suffer anyone he considered a fool and sculptor Georgy Frangulyan surely had that in mind when creating this ensemble. But one turns one’s head skyward for more than one reason, and I don’t doubt that the lonely figure of Brodsky looking to the heavens has other meanings as well. I saw Brodsky read his poetry at the Boston Public Library in the early 1980s. Frankly, it was a bit of a chore. In my opinion, his heavily metered, chanting performance voice turned all his spectacular words into a monotone mush. I could not take my eyes off of his face, however. That was an extraordinary sight. Many years later I spent a few days at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and I trekked over to the Slavic Department where Brodsky taught for some time after his emigration to the U.S. I wrote a bit about how Brodsky ended up there thanks to Carl Proffer, in a Moscow Times blog, which you can jump to if you’re so inclined. For the record I also post two photos of the building that houses the Slavic Department at UMI, one on the outside, the other from the inside.
This monument to Mstislav Rostropovich appeared in the little square at the crux of Moscow’s Bryusov Pereulok and Yeliseyevsky Pereulok in 2012, five years after the cellist died. He was one of the great artists and great citizens of the world. He sheltered Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the early 1970s, when that writer was under attack from the Soviet authorities. But I don’t want to get into listing all of this cellists great deeds – I’ll never get anything else said.
I used to see Rostropovich perform frequently in the 1980s in Washington, D.C., when he was the musical director and principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. I loved him for his temperament, his enthusiasm, his passion. No symphony orchestra could merely play under the direction of his baton. The musicians had to perform. With Shostakovich at the helm, the National Symphony Orchestra was a beast – a live, living organism that breathed and seethed. I know, I know. There are those who thought Rostropovich, especially as a conductor, was too emotional. In my book: Baloney. Rostropovich brought class, quality, breadth and depth to classical music in D.C. during his tenure. He breathed life and importance into a sleepy art form in a sleepy, or as the song has it – a “bourgeois” – town.
In Moscow, from the Perestroika era on, Rostropovich was a frequent and welcome guest. He rarely missed an opportunity to make it known what side he was on politically – showing up to play his cello as the Berlin Wall fell, and showing up in Moscow during the coup in Moscow to lend his support to Boris Yeltsin. The monument in Moscow is a multi-layered work by sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov and architect Igor Voskresensky. Among other things, it includes a page from the music to one of the works that Sergei Prokofiev wrote expressly for the musician.