‘Three generations of composers who fled Russia’

Quarter of a century ago, I wrote a front-page Sunday newspaper lead about composers who were fleeing the crumbling Soviet Union and applying for asylum in the UK.

Two who were pictured with the story were the married couple Dmitri Smirnov and Elena Firsova, who were living with two small children in a tiny house in Chiswick. Now, their daughter Alissa Firsova has made her first recording – an album of music by Rachmaninov, her mother, her father and herself.

Alissa talks revealingly on video about Russian music in exile.

alissa firsova

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  • The CD is released worldwide on August 14 – catalogue VIVAT 109. You can pre-order at all the normal excellent outlets (or direct from Vivat) and there are also hi-res downloads in all the usual formats. Alissa’s is indeed a fascinating story (recounted in the CD booklet) – and it’s a superb disc!

    You can also hear the world premiere of Alissa’s latest orchestral work, written for the Bergen Phil and Andrew Litton. at the Proms on August 27.

    • Smirnov is one the most common surnames in Russia; and Dmitri is one of the most familiar first names. To clarify: the tenor Dmitri Smirnov to whom you refer left Russia in 1917 and died in 1944. Alissa’s father, the composer Dmitri Smirnov, was born in Minsk in 1948. There were even two Russian footballers called Dmitri Smirnov in the same football team for a while, which must have given the commentators some fun…

  • Elena Firsova and Dmitri Smirnov were part of the so-called Khrennikov’s Seven – a group of seven Soviet composers, denounced by Tikhon Khrennikov, who, in an effort to have them blacklisted and boycotted, called their music: “pointless… and noisy mud instead of real musical innovation” during the 1979 Sixth Congress of the Composers‘ Union (with the tone of Khrennikov’s denunciation harkening back to the First Congress of 1948, in which Prokofiev and Shostakovich were victimized). I recently recorded the 1985 Fantasy by Elena Firsova (world premiere recording) and the Two Fugues by her husband Dmitri Smirnov – fascinating pieces for solo violin! I am very much looking forward to the upcoming release of the CD (on the Urlicht label), and hope that this disc will be accompanied by a DVD with interviews of the composers.

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