Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Great Richter

The great Sviatoslav Richter, sitting with Leonard Bernstein backstage at Carnegie Hall in 1960.

In a career lasting more than fifty years, Richter made only three tours of the United States.

Despite the fact that Richter made it to the American Midwest on each of his U.S. tours, Richter never appeared in Minneapolis.

Richter’s first U.S. tour, in 1960, was his most extensive. Richter gave numerous concerts and recitals all over the country that year—and created a furor.

Richter returned to the U.S. in 1965 for a much more limited series of concerts and recitals.

Richter’s final U.S. appearances were in 1970.

One of Richter’s 1970 New York recitals was picketed by protesters, who were asserting grievances not against Richter but against the Russian government. Richter was insulted by the picketing—he had never been a supporter of Russia’s government in the least (in fact, his father had been shot by the regime)—and he vowed never to return to the U.S.

Richter kept his word. For the final 27 years of his life, Richter never again was to step upon U.S. soil.

One odd fact about Richter’s career: from 1960 onward, Richter gave far more concerts in the West than in Russia, where his appearances were few and far between. Richter especially liked playing in France and Italy, and the Russian government fully accommodated Richter, allowing him to give as many concerts and recitals in Western Europe as he wished.

Such practice was in stark contrast to other Russian artists, including even the loyal Emil Gilels, whose foreign appearances were very constricted. Most Russian musicians were allowed out of the country only infrequently—if at all.

It is interesting to speculate why the Kremlin granted Richter such freedoms. The Kremlin knew that Richter hated the Russian government—and yet Richter, alone of all Russian musicians, was more or less allowed to come and go as he pleased.

Some persons contend that Yekaterina Furtseva, onetime Soviet Minister Of Culture (and, for a period, member of the Politburo), was responsible for the special privileges granted to Richter. I have never bought that argument, as Furtseva was a foolish and vicious woman, eager to keep artists under her thumb—and, in any case, an authority higher than Furtseva would have been required to give Richter the carte blanche he enjoyed.

My belief is that Nikita Khrushchev, for whatever reason, viewed Richter as a law unto himself, and ordered that Richter be permitted to play when and where he chose—and, after Khrushchev fell from power, that Alexei Kosygin, who possessed some liberal tendencies, served as Richter’s Kremlin protector.

No other scenario makes sense.

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