QUEENS COLLEGE PRESENTS
AN EVENING OF POETRY AND MUSIC
WITH YEVGENY YEVTUSHENKO ON DECEMBER 11
-- Yevtushenko Birthday Celebration Includes Musical Premiere of “Swimming With Yevgeny,” Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13, and Readings by the Poet --
FLUSHING, NY, November 18, 2003 – The world-renowned poet, novelist, and filmmaker Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the first Russian author to break through the Iron Curtain and recite his poetry in the West, will be honored December 11 at Queens College’s LeFrak Concert Hall. The birthday celebration is an evening of poetry and music hosted by the college’s Aaron Copland School of Music as well as the Department of European Languages and Literatures, where Yevtushenko is a Distinguished Professor.
The art-filled gala features the world premiere of a new work, “Swimming with Yevgeny,” by Queens College composer-in-residence Bruce Saylor. The musical piece is based on three poems by Yevtushenko: “Even If You Are Swimming Alone,” “An Attempt of Blasphemy,” and “New York Taxis.” Saylor's work will be performed by mezzo-soprano Constance Beavon and a chamber ensemble on piano, clarinet, horn, percussion, and cello.
The program also includes Dimitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, which was inspired by Yevtushenko’s “Babi Yar,” a poem against anti-Semitism written in 1961. The symphony will be performed by the Queens College Orchestra, conducted and directed by Maurice Peress. The Queens College Choir and Chorus under the direction of James John and Mikhail Svetlov, bass, will also take part in the “Babi Yar” performance. Of Yevtushenko’s work, Shostakovich has said, “Morality is a sister of conscience. And perhaps God is with Yevtushenko when he speaks of conscience. Every morning, in place of prayers, I reread or repeat by memory two poems by Yevtushenko: ‘Career’ or ‘Boots.’”
Yevtushenko, whose work has been translated into 72 languages, will read his famous poems and new, as-yet-unpublished poetry in both English and Russian. Queens College drama students will participate in the reading.
Tickets ($15; $13 for students/alumni) for the 7:30 pm concert can be purchased through the Colden Center Box Office at (718) 793-8080. There will also be an after-concert champagne reception with Yevtushenko; those tickets are $125 ($100 for alumni). To attend the reception, RSVP by Monday, December 8, to (718) 997-3802. The evening's proceeds will support scholarships in the Aaron Copland School of Music and the college's Russian language program. Queens College is located at 65-30 Kissena Boulevard in Flushing, Queens (Long Island Expressway, Exit 24).
Born in 1933 in Siberia, Yevtushenko published his first book in 1952 and was expelled from the Literary Institute five years later for his “individualism.” Boris Pasternak, Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost praised his early poems--the first, lonely voice against Stalinism. In 1960 Yevtushenko made history as the first Russian to recite his poetry in the West, where he was befriended by such artists as Max Ernst, Henry Moore, Federico Fellini, John Steinbeck, Allen Ginsberg, Henrich Boll, Pablo Neruda, Gabrial Garcia Marquez, and Louis Armstrong.
Among Yevtushenko’s numerous works are scores of poetry collections, four novels, three books of political essays, two books of photography, and popular songs including “Lara’s Theme” from the movie “Doctor Zhivago.” He also wrote and directed two films: “Kindergarten” (1982) and “Stalin's Funeral” (1990) starring Vanessa Redgrave and Claus Maria Brandauer.
Called “one of the true heroes of the entire Soviet period” by Norman Mailer, Yevtushenko has raised his voice against political oppression since his earliest days as a writer. Widely recognized as a figure of major international stature, he protested the trial of dissidents and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and, together with physicist Andrei Sakharov, co-founded the first Russian association against Stalinism.
In addition, Yevtushenko served from 1988-1991 in the first freely elected Russian parliament, where he fought against censorship and other restrictions. When hard-liners attempted a coup in 1991, Yevtushenko recited his poetry from the balcony of the Russian White House to 200,000 defenders of democracy massed in the streets. Soon after, the government awarded him its “Defender of Free Russia” medal. However, a few years later he refused President Boris Yeltsin's offer of the high Russian decoration, “The Order of Friendship Between Peoples,” because of the corruption surrounding Yeltsin's presidency.
Yevtushenko is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and a member of the European Academy of Arts and Sciences. The American Jewish National Committee awarded him a medal in 1992 “For Permanent Activities in the Protection of Human Rights.” Much in demand for his moving poetry recitals, Yevtushenko has visited 93 countries, reading his poetry in most of them. This year, his readings in Carnegie Hall and the Kremlin Palace were greeted with standing ovations.
A Russian citizen, Yevgeny Yevtushenko divides his time between his homeland and the United States. At Queens College (City University of New York), he teaches courses in Russian literature and Russian/East European film.