For twelve months in 2012/2013, Germany is experiencing an impressive cultural offensive from the East. Lovers of Russian culture have plenty to choose from in these months, and the program for Berlin's "Russia" festival offers more highlights yet.
What is the sound of Russia?
That's the question behind the plans made by festival initiators Sebastian Nordmann, the director of Konzerthaus Berlin, and Ivan Fischer, the new head of the institution's orchestra.
The festival in Berlin offers a glimpse of the rich cosmos of Russian music. The program's high point comes with two major symphonic projects by the Konzerthaus Orchestra. Dmitry Kitayenko, the first guest conductor of the orchestra, makes his way from Mussorgsky's "Songs and Dances of Death" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Kitezh Suite" to Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13, dedicated to the massacre of Babi Yar in World War II. In 1941, Nazis murdered thousands of Ukrainian Jews in the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev.
Otherwise, though, the program's moods range from joyous to nostalgic with features like Russian folk music, puppet theater of Russian fairy tales and a new dub of the early Soviet silent film classic "Aelita - Queen of Mars." The 1924 film is a mix of very naïve science fiction with very sophisticated agitation propaganda. The young Russian composer Dmitry Kurliansky takes a new and humorous approach to the work.
The festival deserves praise for the wide range of its original ideas and new names, but one does have to wonder a bit about the event's opener: The unavoidable Berlin resident and "professional Russian" Vladimir Kaminer reads from his book titled "Kochbuch des Sozialismus" (The Socialist Cookbook) with Russian piano music in the background. The festival could have perhaps done without that.