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Two films by Bruno Monsaingeon, the grand-seigneur of documentaries about music, explore the fascinating music scene in the Soviet Union. Set against a background of extreme difficulty and even terror between 1917 and 1990, the world of music that developed in the Soviet Union was one of the richest and most intense in the whole of the 20th century. In the course of those seventy years major composers and outstanding performers displayed their talents in situations that were often grotesque and never less than extreme. The film tries to shed some light on the situation with a personal account of the conductor and major musical figure, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky - a highly colourful character and born raconteur. He was familiar at first hand with the most dramatic and, later, more settled periods in the history of the Soviet Union. The DVD includes previously unpublished material on some of the great Soviet performers and composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and goes far beyond mere private memories. The other film portrays the conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky himself: Born in 1931, he made his début at the Bolshoi a year before Stalin’s death. He was deeply committed to contemporary music and a close friend of such great composers as Shostakovich and Schnittke. He also championed Prokofiev’s later works, which had been banned until then. This is also a documentary about the art of conducting. It was shot in Moscow, Zurich and Paris between 1991 and 2002 and features Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony in master classes with students at the Moscow Conservatory and rehearsals with Zurich’s Tonhalle orchestra along with performances of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and Schnittke’s Suite Dead Souls. The latter can also be seen in an extensive bonus film, which also includes Zdravitsa, a cantata by Sergey Prokofiev composed in 1939 for the celebration of Stalin’s 60th birthday.
The Red Baton - Scenes of musical life in stalinist Russia & Gennadi Rozhdestvensky: Conductor or Conjuror?