Maxim Shostakovich: Why I returned to Russia

Maxim Shostakovich: Why I returned to Russia


norman lebrecht

February 25, 2015

The composer’s son fled the Soviet Union in 1981, in what he describes as the ‘era of stagnation’. He has told  Russian interviewer that he wanted to tell the truth about his father and make a political protest.

But he has moved back now. ‘I want my children to grow up in Russia, to feel like real Russians. Even in America, I lived next door to a Russian Orthodox monastery. When we moved to St. Petersburg, there were no schools that were right for our children. So my wife, Marina, created her own school at the Church of St. Catherine… Much of my father is here, in St Petersburg.’

Full interview (in Russian) here.


photo: NYPL, 1938


  • John Borstlap says:

    It is sad… It seems that for many Russians, ‘being Russian’ is far more important than living in a civilized country, as we can observe in these days on the news.

    • Sergei says:

      What it is sad is that you don’t understand Russian people, and never will. For a Russian, his country is an essencial part of his being. Even far away they are and will always be Russians. no matter where they live nor how long a time they were there.

    • La di da says:

      oh, stop with this bull!!!
      Pethaps he was simply sick and tired if what USA do to the world, how they lie, how they swallow everithing non american, etc… Shame on everybody who still believes that in USA realy exist real democracy, or teal civilisation! Just walk some streets in New York, just talk to some people heo do not live on the eastern or werstern coast…
      Just try to think for once with your OWN head!

      And , for once try to think about it if something called “cultural identity” of other nations for some reason might be important to them! There are far more great cultural welths on this planet than this of USA and its satelits!
      I am so damd angry: si many people brain whashed by this country if Yours.
      Start thinking with your own head! Damd it!

      PS: and don’t answer or say something clever! I am nor American, nor Russian, I am German, and pissed off by the way how my country hangs out of the bottom of USA.

      • MacroV says:

        As a German you ought to be incredibly grateful to America, which (together with the Soviets, of course) destroyed the Nazis, and then, unlike the Soviets, allowed the part of Germany it conquered, within a generation. to rebuild (with substantial US taxpayer money) into a modern democracy that despite the horrific crimes of its fathers and grandfathers, was allowed back into the community of respectable nations (and to its credit, unlike some other countries, it has acknowledged and sought to atone for the sins of its recent past). Meanwhile, starting with the Berlin Airlift, for 40 years it protected West Germany from the Warsaw Pact nations.

        That said, I can understand someone feeling most at home in his/her native land, no matter its current political leadership. So I wish Mr. Shostakovich well.

        • La di da says:

          to Makarov:
          Thos has nothing to do with Nazis who did terrible things and are hopefully destroyed forever!
          I am sick and tired of USA propaganda today!
          They behave today like: who is not with us he is against us.
          And than you have people comenting so stupidly:like this gye hier: oh pitty for him that he prefers his homeland to us here! My dear God!!!!!

          Everybody has the right to leave a place he dorsn’t like.

          I would realy like from time to time to find somethin to read from some American who does think with his own head!

      • Brian b says:

        The Baader-Meinhof Gang was German, too. So was the Stasi.
        And Macrov told the unvarnished truth. Deal with it.

    • Anon says:

      As someone who lived in the middle of Europe, I can assure you it was common to refer to Americans as “Russians with Dollars” same same, except for the dollars. So your chauvinistic hint at only one of those two entities being civilized is quite funny from an outside perspective.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I am really surprised by the reactions… To begin with, I am not American but very, very European, and very very north European for that matter. I do not cultivate a special fanatic love for everything American. But…. in spite of all the problems of the USA, which everybody knows, there is still a state of law (to a very great extent), and freedom (to a very great extent) and there is not a regime that simply locks-up any opposition that does not agree with its views. If you are an American and you don’t agree with American politics or the ‘American way of life’ (whatever that may be), you can talk about it, write about it, and if you are a publicly known person you can even wildly condemn it, attack it, scorn it, etc. etc. like the American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky does for a living, and you can still live in the states unhindered, and not arrested and whipped and tortured. Compare that with Russia where unwelcome journalists can be simply shot dead and where paranoia runs wild nowadays, eufemistically called ‘patriotism’. It is not difficult to see where the surplus of civilized values still are to be found: in the Western world. People who can’t see that, should quickly move to Russia (which begins to look like Germany in the thirties), China, or – for the serious cases – North Korea.

        That’s why Shostakovich son is to be pitied, that his emotional ties count as stronger than the freedoms and legal protections that exist in the West. You can be very Russian in the West, too, as Strawinsky already had shown.

        Of course people love their country and feel it part of their identity. But for civilized individuals that diminishes when that country crumbles and resorts to archaic primitivism. It is not difficult to observe that, even with one’s own head.

        • Anon says:

          How much of your opinion about Russians and Russia has been shaped by first hand experience? I suppose like most people in the west almost everything you “know” about Russia has been “washed” into your brain by cold war and post cold war propaganda. You certainly sound like it.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Western media (BBC, CNN, WDR,BR,NDR, NPR, etc.) do not spread propaganda but try to provide objective fact telling. Anyone who thinks it’s merely propaganda, should live in Russia or China where the media are state controlled. Please do grow up…..

          • MacroV says:

            I lived in Moscow for a couple years. A great experience in many respects. I won’t claim I begin to understand the place, but I experienced enough that my views aren’t shaped by western propaganda.

            And add to that all the Russians voting with their feet. But as I said, I can understand why Mr. Shostakovich feels an attachment to his homeland. I don’t think he made any claim that it’s “better,” but that on balance, it’s where he feels more at home.

          • Anon says:

            John, if you believe western media is objective, you certainly are being delusional. (and that CNN you named is the proverbial joke to your comment)
            Everything that is happening right now, the revocation of cold war 2.0, is clearly and obviously in line with the US administration’s agenda (I mean the real administration, not the window dressing show) how to
            1.) keep Europe divided
            2.) keep Russia out
            3.) keep the US in (in Europe).

            Ukraine would not be a source of crisis, if the US hadn’t put fuel in the fire there for many years and finally conducted a coup there. It’s a disgrace how sophisticated the US is executing its global politics for absolute primitive and evil intentions.

    • Greg from SF says:

      God, Borstslap, you’re an idiot…..

      • John Borstlap says:

        …. Sounds like someone who looks too often into the mirror.

        • George says:

          II love the way you think and the way you talk! All you say is totally right! The fact that Russians go back is bc they now will get much more there than in the States! Centuries old routine.

  • S.S says:

    o boy!
    Another American who thinks the World should be everywhere like USA!
    Well, surprise! Not everyone is happy with USA !

    • Matt Denerov says:

      And which of the world’s dynamic countries with responsibility are you happy with? France? The UK? No country is perfect, and all things considered nobody should be judging others.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Everyone has the right to move and live where they want. That said, it is not uncommon for some emigrees, when they get older, to feel “the pull” to return to their country of origin. Another very powerful reason is to allow children to develop a cultural identity, to “grow roots”. I respect the Shostakovich family’s decision, and I note with even greater respect that they have begun setting up a school that is right for their children, at the Church of St. Catherine in Sankt Peterburg. As I see it, they want to be deeply rooted in Russian culture and spirituality. I wish them the best, and hope that their children will one day emerge as parents and leaders, in whatever capacity, of a new and post-putinist Russia, void of the unhealthy and narrow minded nationalism and Panslavism espoused by Mr. Putin and his corrupt cronies, including his church pet Patriarch Kyrill.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Wise observations. But you can do all those things also in the West. Cultural identity is not fixed to a geographic location, as so many muslems who live in the West clearly show. What is worrying is the irrational, over-emotional climate in Russia, which is being manipulated by a dangerous regime. History has shown, especialy in the last century, where this can lead to.

      • Greg from SF says:

        In my first reply to you, I misspelled your name. Please allow me to correct that.
        God, Borstlap, you really ARE an idiot…..

      • Anon says:

        From a global perspective the Russian regime is, by far, less dangerous than the American one. Fact.
        The Russians are just not as powerful and clever in their deception as the Americans.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Please keep your head under the cold tap.

          • Anon says:

            I have a cool mind, thanks. Just open your eyes to reality. Who is ravaging the world with war all over the place, who is killing the most innocent civilians in this world among the so called civilized nations? Who has installed a spider web of military presence all over the world. It is not Russia. It is the war mongering USA.

  • Matt Denerov says:

    God knows the USA isn’t perfect, but what country is? Luxembourg, maybe. Which of the world’s major countries with real dynamism and responsibility is any better?

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Reading the Google translation of the interview, I don’t see any indication that Shostakovich returned to Russia for any other reason than that’s where he was born and that’s where he wanted to live. So the reason for this outburst of reflexive Americophobia is mysterious. But, hey, as my social-justice betters tell me, haters gotta hate.

  • Milka says:

    I suspect he has more to gain riding his father’s coattails in russia than riding the coattails
    in the US .He was less than a minor figure in the US so one suspects back to russia
    as the son of a famous father .It will be interesting to see what type of political protest
    he makes . Will he protest the Ukrainian invasion ?
    For an average russian to emigrate to the west is to come out of the dark ages and it is quite a shock. and takes some adjusting if ever they can adjust, the yearning for mother russia is but window dressing for a something they imagined existed .The russians
    I know do the mother russia nostalgia bit, but if you got them a ticket back to russia they
    would think you are out of your mind .

    • John Borstlap says:

      Maybe the officials at the immigration office asked him whether he wanted to change his name (as they asked Stravinsky when he got in), for instance into ‘George Stakovitz’.

  • David N says:

    Good lord, has the Kremlin troll factory – not paranoia, fact, read The Interpreter – reached Slipped Disc? This bad propaganda is one of the most frightening things about Russia today (Russia Today, the home of Farage and Galloway, included).

    No, USA is very, very far from perfect. But it does not do everything Russia today does. To equate the two is ludicrous.

    Maxim was always a terrible conductor. Maybe he expects to get more work back home? Though I buy the homesickness phenomenon, now would not be the time.

  • M2N2K says:

    As someone whose “opinion about Russians and Russia has been [definitely!] shaped by first hand experience”, I very much agree with comments by John B, David N, Milka, Greg H, Edgar B, Macrov, in this thread. What Sergei wrote on 25/02 is certainly true for many Russians and that is the saddest part of this story.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Wise words. And you even don’t need first hand experience of Russia, but you DO need some understanding of the world we ourselves live in, the Western world. In spite of its imperfections, and against many odds, it has built a form of society where the rule of law and protection of rights, and freedom (within reasonable limits) form the framework. The US – created on the basis of these values – feel themselves the leader of this world and want to help protect the West against its many enemies, who would loose-out if such society would spread around the globe. The reason so many non-Western people want to live in the West, is that they long to live in such society. In the Mediterranean thousands of fugitives drown every month, fugitives from E-Europe, and from the Middle-East where insanity reigns, flood Europe, where they hope to find safety. Etc. etc…. If Westerners would no longer believe in their own society, they deserve to be shipped to Russia or China.

  • baron z says:

    That’s odd. I saw him conduct the 92nd Street Y Symphony in his father’s music, and his grown son played the First Piano Concerto. Why does he need a Russian school? I think he moved because of money as well as nostalgia.

  • baron z says:

    It is just as likely a propaganda move by Putin to call him back, just as Stalin might have done.

  • Ken Groeppe says:

    The unfortunate characteristic of this country is its arrogance, and cultural triviality. Too many people here value sports and pop culture above real culture. Real culture (great music, art, literature and real science) communicates with the subconscious on a spiritual level which far exceeds the power of any religion. Pop cultural is ephemeral and only communicates on the conscious level. I can understand why one might hunger for that deeper, more spiritual communication. The real god in this country is money. The basic idea is the one who has the most money when he dies, wins.
    The real value in life lies in the appreciation of the work of the great men. both past and present. Everything else is without real value. The big houses, cars and high life style are the desires of a vacuous mind, without real value. Maxim’s father was a great man, largely unappreciated in this country, because few of us lack the capacity to comprehend that greatness. Russia has endured centuries of bad government, but for nearly two centuries it has possessed a very unique and vibrant musical culture.

  • Ken Groeppe says:

    I made a mistake which I did not find until after submission. Toward the end is a sentence which should read

    Maxim’s father was a great man, largely unappreciated in this country, because few Americans possess the capacity to comprehend that greatness. His endurance of Soviet cultural stupidity for his entire life is a testimony to his strength of purpose.
    I was in the same room with Maxim’s father in 1960 and witnessed first hand the social hardship he endured, when I saw Tikhon Khrennikov carefully watching everything going on with not only Sshostakovich, but Kabalevsky and other Russian composers, looking for some bit of criticism he might relay to his party bosses in Moscow.