Stalin was rotting well away in 1962, but Stalinism and the centuries-old
tradition of Russian anti-semitism were still fearfully, powerfully
alive. What incredible guts it took then for YevenyYevtushenko to write
"Babi Yar," for Dmitri Shostakovich to compose Symphony No. 13 on the
poem about the World War II slaughter there, and for Mstislav Rostropovich
to smuggle the score out a few years later for the West to hear what was
still being suppressed in the Soviet Union.
The privilege of hearing the Shostakovich work tonight in Davies Hall
(in a rich program also including the Suite No. 1 for Jazz Orchestra
and the Violin Concerto No. 2), conducted by Rostropovich, was both
enhanced and disturbed by memories of 44 years ago when "fears were dying
out" slowly in Russia and the Soviet empire, even as the artists saw
"new fears dawning."
The poet who wrote that "our true home is in time" must have foreseen
the scene in Davies Hall, where next to the listener being overwhelmed
by the personal and re-traumatizing words of "Babi Yar" sat somebody
from another generation, another listener who heard next-to-nothing in
those meaningless words.
The performance - with 30-year-old Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko, an
orchestra on fire, and Vance George's glorious SF Symphony Chorus (of
flawless diction) - was magnificent, but the words of "In the Store,"
"Fears," and - especially - "A Career" (about moral choices being made
- then and now - often against seemingly impossible odds) created another
layer of powerful reality - and it is the words that are to be shared
here, rather than reflections on the performance.
No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years
as all the Jewish people.
Now I seem to be
Here I plod through ancient Egypt.
Here I perish crucified, on the cross,
and to this day I bear the scars of nails.
I seem to be
is both informer and judge.
I am behind bars.
Beset on every side.
Squealing, dainty ladies in flounced Brussels lace
stick their parasols into my face.
I seem to be then
a young boy in Byelostok.
Blood runs, spilling over the floors.
The barroom rabble-rousers
give off a stench of vodka and onion.
A boot kicks me aside, helpless.
In vain I plead with these pogrom bullies.
While they jeer and shout,
"Beat the Yids. Save Russia!"
some grain-marketeer beats up my mother.
0 my Russian people!
are international to the core.
But those with unclean hands
have often made a jingle of your purest name.
I know the goodness of my land.
How vile these anti-Semites-
without a qualm
they pompously called themselves
the Union of the Russian People!
I seem to be
as a branch in April.
And I love.
And have no need of phrases.
is that we gaze into each other.
How little we can see
We are denied the leaves,
we are denied the sky.
Yet we can do so much --
embrace each other in a darkened room.
They're coming here?
Be not afraid. Those are the booming
sounds of spring:
spring is coming here.
Come then to me.
Quick, give me your lips.
Are they smashing down the door?
No, it's the ice breaking ...
The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.
The trees look ominous,
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself
And I myself
am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
each old man
here shot dead.
here shot dead.
Nothing in me
shall ever forget!
The "Internationale," let it
when the last anti-Semite on earth
is buried forever.
In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage, all anti-Semites
must hate me now as a Jew.
For that reason
I am a true Russian!
[log in to unmask]