What could be a better place in London than the British Library to resurrect a revolutionary atmosphere of 1917 Russia and retrospectively reflect on the world-changing events of the period! A brief encounter with Lenin alias Jacob Richter, together with the architectural features of the Entrance Hall – its monumental scale with whitewashed and bricked walls resembling a giant machine hall – makes the British Library an ideal venue for grandiose revolutionary projects. One of such projects that attempted to stand up to it was ‘Sounds of the Revolution’, curated by Josephine Burton and Gabriel Prokofiev.
The original and ambitious work, created solely for the 5th May evening, promised to bring together ‘an explosion of sights and sounds’ to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution. The evening started off with highly featured The Renegade Orchestra performing a new revolutionary piece of music theatre called Journey One. Three musicians drawn together from across the Post-Soviet States shared stories of their personal journeys from the world of traditional classical music to the new horizons of contemporary classical music, folk music and electronic. Together, under the baton of a composer/conductor, they were drowning in nostalgia, while seeking solace in their shared memories of a Soviet childhood.
Regardless of occasional unplanned improvisation, all three protagonists – Marina Kryukova, Vladimir Volkov and Shavkat Matyakubov – gave a subtle performance evoking an intense feeling of sentimentality and seemed to capture the hearts of the audience with their humaneness. Unfortunately, the performance was slightly disrupted by chaotic surtitles that made it difficult to follow the story and fully embrace its hidden message. On the other hand, the organisers did advertise the evening full of ‘nostalgia, CHAOS, bitterness and excitement.’
The super-star of the evening was without doubt was a Russian-British theremin virtuoso Lydia Kavina who studied the instrument under the direction of famous Leon Theremin himself. The 19th century Socialist anthem The Internationale remarkably played by Lydia quickly spread a revolutionary vibe throughout the hall and gave way to tumultuous applause punctuated only by loud whistling of an excited crowd and the clinking sound of dropped beer bottles. Another prolonged ovation was sparked by Howl, a composition written during the Arab Spring, performed by Lydia and its composer Gabriel Prokofiev.
The screening of Pudovkin’s 1927 silent movie End of St Petersburg was preceded by Choral Mass Action led by Alexander Manotskov. Alexander’s extraordinary and truly funny one-man show charged the whole space with palpable positive energy. He made the audience cooperate with such a nonchalance, which was simply charming. The event then continued with the screening accompanied by a life soundtrack from Gabriel Prokofiev, Alexander Manotskov, “The Renegade Orchestra” and UK-based musicians, reflecting the avant-garde experimentations of a century ago. The music was adding to the natural flow of the movie, masterly conveying the spirit of the era, with a touch of humour and self-reflection. The final pan flutes’ tunes by Marina Kryukova were especially touching and respectfully closed the overall pleasant evening.