Shostakovich shocker

The report said that shock waves went through Moscow's Ministry of Culture when the son and grandson of Shostakovich defected to the West. But how can Soviet leaders still be shockable about such things? And do they really care? It would seem so easy to make Russian talent want to stay home in the land of Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Tchaikovsky.

In the case of the Shostakoviches, as in so many others, it looked as if a little more breath of freedom might have done the trick. Maxim Shostakovich, the late composer's son, was conductor of a Soviet orchestra, and Maxim's son Dmitri was its pianist. They sought political asylum in West Germany after playing a concert there.

It was noted that Maxim had had experience with Moscow's controlled press -- such as the episode several years ago when a statement of his came too close to associating Stalin with tyranny. "What else is new?" some might have said, and let Stalin's reputation take care of itself. But not in superpower Russia.

Who knows or will ever know the whole story behind the exodus of Soviet artists over the years? But it can't be for the tax advantages that lure celebrities from one Western country to another. Solzhenitsyn, Rostropovich, Zinoviev, Baryshnikov -- if the communist paradise is so great, why aren't their Western counterparts defecting from democracy to the delights of living in the shadow of the Kremlin?

Oh, Moscow can still count solid theater, dance, and musical organizations among its cultural assets. But it must stop and wonder occasionally why it has to worry more about who won't come back from tours abroad than what the reviews will say.

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