A new play about Dmitri Shostakovich’s visit to Oxford in 1958 to receive an Honorary Doctorate in Music is performed in London this month. The story, based on the official correspondence and telegrams published by Dr Lewis Owens in 2004, is a fascinating, humorous, and poignant portrayal of the clash between two distinct, and distinctly insular, worlds: the Byzantine rituals and orotundity of Oxford University and the unsmiling officialdom of 1958 Soviet Russia. When Shostakovich finally arrives in Oxford for his three-day stay, hosted by Isaiah Berlin, we are presented not only with a unique insight into the inner personalities of Shostakovich, Berlin, and others, but also a searing reminder of the value of art in the Cold War period. The play not only recognises and acknowledges the genius and troubles of Shostakovich but also asks how much has really changed since 1958? Are we, as Gorbachev recently declared, are entering a new Cold War? How many more innocent victims will be caught in the cross-fire between Russia and Ukraine?
The play is dedicated to the 298 victims of the MH17 flight that came down, tragically, over Ukrainian air-space on July 17, 2014, and while the play does not propose any explicit political message, it seeks to raise more questions than answers.
Alongside the creativity of Ukrainian-born director Victor Sobchak the play also includes pianists Colin Stone and Ukrainian Tanya Ursova, as well as mezzo-soprano Clare McCaldin to offer a necessary musical flavour to the play. Like all works of art, Like a Chemist from Canada will appeal to some more than others. However, if people leave with more questions than answers about contemporary events in Ukraine and are reminded that 2015 is the 40-year anniversary of Shostakovich’s death, then this project will not have been in vain.
More about the play here.
Schedule of performances
13 June 2015, 7 pm,
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells – Rosebery Ave, London EC1R 4TN
Tickets: £15/£10 (concessions)
Available from here
14 June 2015, 7pm,
The Dukes Hall, Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, London, NW1 6HT
Tickets: £20/£15 (concessions)
Available from here
3 July 2015, 7.30 pm
The Sheldonian Theatre – Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3AZ
£15 to £20 (£13 to £18 concessions)
Published with the consent of the script writer Lewis Owens.