The composer who refused to play the Soviet game

The composer who refused to play the Soviet game


norman lebrecht

September 02, 2016

I have just heard Elena Bashkirova perform a trio by Galina Ustvolskaya with Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin) and Chen Halevi (clarinet) – an experience so marvellous and bewildering that I had to take a walk afterwards to clear my head.

The music is just as confusing to the musicians, apparently simple on the page but with bold rhythmic diversions and sheer silence, infused with a rage that musty have been as much personal as it was political.



Ustvolskaya lived a hermit life in Leningrad, refusing to open her door to visitors. The student closest to Shostakovich (he wanted to marry her), she was devoutly religious and completely unafraid. Ten years after her death, her music is only now beginning to be understood. You must hear some.

It so happens that her piano concerto is the Lebrecht Album of the Week.

Read here. Or here.


galina ustvolskayagalina ustvolskaya


  • Qwerty1234 says:

    Yes! Very haunting, immense (and loud!) pieces

  • John Borstlap says:

    I was at the Dutch première of U’s Trio for Incompatible Instruments with a well-meaning collegue, who said after a couple of minutes, indignant: “No, it can’t possibly have been THAT bad in the Soviet Union!’