Jan. 31, Downtown Lecture "Borders" welcomes "Art as Grit: Siege of Leningrad in Music and Poetry"

January 30, 2019 | Hannah Gainer, CASSH Communicaitons Assistant | casshcommunications@uwf.edu

The performance of Dimitri Shostakovich’s "Symphony No. 7" showed an act of Soviet resilience and defiance toward Nazi advancement into Leningrad.

Music and poetry reveal resilience of those under siege during “Art as Grit: The Siege of Leningrad in Music and Poetry.”

The theme for this years Downtown Lecture Series is “Borders,” and explores the creation and development of various borders through art, music, language and geo-political contexts. The Jan. 31 installment for the series, “Art as Grit: The Siege of Leningrad in Music and Poetry” will showcase a collaboration of music, poetry and dialogue. The event will combine a performance of Soviet composer Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Piano Trio No. 2” by UWF music faculty Dr. Leonid Yanovskiy, violin;  Blake Riley, piano; and Aleksandra Pereverzeva, cello, with original sonnets about the siege of Leningrad by Jonathan Fink, UWF professor of English and director of creative writing.


“Today, we hear in his music a passionate - at times, exasperated - appeal to the peoples of all generations and nations, to remember and uphold the dignity of the human race, to fulfill the promise of individual freedom, freedom of choice and consciousness,” said Yanovskiy.


After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the German army surrounded the city of Leningrad in an extended siege. Over the next four years, Soviet civilians and soldiers would die from starvation, execution, battle and illness.  The total number of Soviet deaths in World War II is believed to have exceeded 25,000,000. In the Leningrad area alone, between 1.6 million and 2 million Soviet citizens perished from the summer of 1941 to the summer of 1944. Altogether, the siege lasted nearly 900 days and resulted in more than 1 million deaths. Yet, it was the resilience of Leningrad and its people that proved instrumental to the Nazi defeat.  Over the 900 days of the siege of Leningrad, its citizens, at great cost, defied the German army artistically and militarily.

According to CanadianMilitaryHistory.ca, the siege of Leningrad resulted in the greatest destruction inflicted on any modern city, and it reduced the third of the population still alive to theft, murder and cannibalism. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is that this horrific period also produced great works of poetry, literature and music.

One such crystalizing act of defiance was the performance in Leningrad in August 1942 of Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 7,” completed by the 35-year-old Soviet composer in an intensity of artistic creation during the first year of the siege.  Though the piecemeal Leningrad orchestra was hobbled and thinned by starvation and exhaustion, the performance was broadcast on loudspeakers throughout Leningrad and at the surrounding German army.

“As an honest artist and great humanist, Shostakovich’s music was inspired not strictly by his opposition to Hitlerism, but much more broadly and importantly, by his deeply rooted liberal attitude against any kind of totalitarianism, including the Soviet-style communism, Stalinism,” said Dr. Leonid Yanovskiy University of West Florida professor of music and director of strings.

The music Shostakovich wrote during WWII was not merely a depiction of the events of the 1940s.

“Today, we hear in his music a passionate - at times, exasperated - appeal to the peoples of all generations and nations, to remember and uphold the dignity of the human race, to fulfill the promise of individual freedom, freedom of choice and consciousness,” said Yanovskiy.

Along with musicians, poets spoke directly to the suffering. According to CanadianMilitaryHistory.ca,  Anna Akhmatova is considered one of the greatest poets of twentieth century Russia. Akhmatova wrote about her experiences when Hitler broke his pact and invaded the Soviet Union, she was deeply out of favor with the authorities. Akhmatova poems, heavy with portents, speaks of the continued ruin of the city.


“Poetry can help contemporary readers access the recreated lives, experiences, and points-of-view of individuals from the past,” said Fink. “Poetry also is beneficial to today's society by its nuance, aesthetic beauty and structure, relevance, and impact, as well as poetry's ability as an art form to embrace a layered and multi-faceted understanding of human emotion and experience.” 


With the 75th anniversary since World War II siege of Leningrad, Experience University of West Florida Downtown will host “Art as Grit: The Siege of Leningrad in Music and Poetry.” Following the performance there will be a brief intermission, the performers, along with UWF history professor Dr. Daniel Miller, and musicologist Dr. Victoria Adamenko will participate in a talkback session with the audience about the music, the siege, and Russian history.

One of the initiators of the project, Yanovskiy is the violinist with the UWF Faculty Trio, performing “Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2.” He is director of strings and orchestra at UWF, concertmaster of the Northwest Florida and Pensacola Symphony Orchestras, and artist faculty at the InterHarmony International Music Festival. Yanovskiy has appeared in recitals throughout the United States, as well as in Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Korea, Mexico and Russia. The New York Times described one of his chamber music appearances as “…a luminous performance; a sumptuous, vibrato-rich tone and a kind of energy that made the fast movements dance.” Among his many achievements, his UWF students are winners of national, regional and state competitions.  

Additionally, Jonathan Fink’s reading of selections of his original sonnets from  poetry collection, "Barbarossa: The German Invasion of the Soviet Union and the Siege of Leningrad," will be interspersed between the Piano Trio’s four movements. Fink’s sonnets were written based on different artifacts, photographs, anecdotes and research he undertook about the siege. Fink is an English professor and director of creative writing at University of West Florida. Fink has published two books of poetry, including the collection of sonnets, “Barbarossa: The German Invasion of the Soviet Union and the Siege of Leningrad.” Following the book’s publication, Jonathan was named by Poets & Writers as one of ten “2015 Debut Poets.” Fink’s poetry has appeared widely in publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Poetry, Virginia Quarterly Review and Slate.

This event is sponsored by the UWF College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities; UWF Office of Equity and Diversity; Blues Angel Music; and is funded, in part, by the John C. Pace Symposium Series.

Fink says, he hopes all individuals involved this evening engage in the artistry, heroism, and tenacity exhibited by the citizens of Leningrad during the siege.

The event will take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, at Old Christ’s Church, is free and open to the public.

The final installment of the 2018-2019 Experienc UWF Downtown Lecture Series is, “Defining and Defending the Borders of “la Florida," and will be held on April 16 in conjunction with UWF Founders Week. This installment will focus on the interdisciplinary investigation of Northwest Florida’s borders and boundaries within the New World. 

For more information contact College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, 850.474.3227 or casshcommunications@uwf.edu.