Mikhail Shvydkoi: ‘This Song, Comrade, Is Both Yours And Mine’
In the autumn of 1998, the Rossia TV channel ran a 12-part serial , Farewell To the Superpower; Kobzon sang “old songs about the main thing”, talked, alongside his relatives, about his Soviet life, remembered friends while friends contributed their memories about the way they all used to live. They were, indeed, saying good-bye to the superpower in which they grew up, gained a profession, managed to achieve recognition, fulfilment and creditworthiness. They were saying good-bye to the country which was our common Motherland and of which, the way you should after a funeral, nothing was remembered but what was good. The songs that were sung in the film were also part of that life, which had passed and remained with us largely thanks to those very songs if only because we had not yet learnt any other – had been unable or did not want to.
Criticism I was showered with (I happened to be the head of the All-Russian Television and Radio Company at the time) for broadcasting the serial had to do both with the “politics” and “poetry”. Some saw Kobzon as an orthodox Communist others, as a criminalised businessman still others, as an entertainment boss reluctant, in all times, to give up his position. But I was sure that we had done the right thing although – there is no need to hide it as it has been long known – Joseph Davydovich does not share many of my views on life and art, same as I do not share his. Which, however, does not prevent us from maintaining a warm human relationship.
Kobzon had been saying farewell to the superpower a year before the 12-part serial was broadcast, during a concert at the, yet undemolished, Rossia Concert Hall, held to celebrate his 60th birthday, and ten years later, when, celebrating his 70th birthday, he toured all the capitals of the former Soviet Union. At his recent gala concert at “a Moscow courtyard” laid out in the Rossia Hall housed provisionally at Luzhniki, he was once again saying farewell to the superpower, assisted by the sex symbol of the Soviet Central Television, Svetlana Morgunova, the Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, his family and his entertainment and theatre colleagues.
He proved to be a grateful son to his departed country where he had graduated from a gangly boy who came from Dnepropetrovsk to conquer Moscow, with a chunk of lard in his rucksack, to a symbol of success upholding the myth about equal opportunities for all without exception. Refusing to change his name, he symbolised the ideal dream of friendship among nations, which kept alive in the Soviet Union despite all sorts of political campaigns. It could be said that he was a lucky man with a gift of moulding himself to different circumstances presented to him. But for me as for tens of millions of my compatriots, he was – and still is! – above all an artist whose talent has proved to be bigger and deeper than any ideological or social schemes, may they even be dear to the singer himself.
Joseph Kobzon is a unique artistic phenomenon, which is only becoming increasingly obvious with years. Even for his enemies. His art is linked to the Soviet song in exactly the same degree as the Soviet song is itself linked to the Russian folk lament or dance chant, urban melos, gypsy romantic song and shtetl klezmorim’s music. And, of course, to the Russian classics, from Glinka to Tchaikovsky. A baritone of phenomenal elasticity, mesmerizing both in tenor and bass registers, immaculate musical proficiency and a singular capacity to keep thousands of arias, songs and lieder in his memory have gained him a unique position both in the our song history and in its present. He is constantly seeking new harmonies; it is no mere chance that, in his preparations for his 60th birthday gala, he involved not only the Alexandrov Ensemble but also the Choir led by Vladimir Minin, the subtlest of conductors and a connoisseur of vocalists of the highest class. It pains him to lip-synch and he does it very rarely, only in exceptional cases to meet the requests of television soundmen; live sound is Kobzon’s natural element. The song must be born here and now, picked up by the orchestra that is ready to improvise with the singer.
Every time he comes to the shooting of the Life Is Beautiful programme, you do not want to let him go: his encyclopaedic musical knowledge generates an urge to go back to the forgotten pages of Russian song history, which Kobzon can talk – and sing! – about for hours.
And, of course, he has the virility that is sadly missing both on the song scene and in real life. This virility has perhaps lost its ideological connotations over the years: even songs about the Komsomol, the Civil War or the conquering of the Siberian latitudes reveal their lyrical depth and bona fide emotional energy, all the more so as they were written, in olden times, by first-class composers, from Ostrovsky to Pakhmutova. They are full of extraverbal meaning; Kobzon can convey this joy of exuberant life as well as the luminous sadness of reciprocated or unreciprocated love.
But every time, admiring the magic of Kobzon’s voice, his willpower capable of defeating an illness, delighting in his genuine success across one sixth of the globe’s landmass, I wonder what he could have achieved, had he lived in different circumstances, without the “iron curtain”, the Berlin Wall, the Cold War and other attributes of a planet divided in two. I am sure he would be no less or perhaps more famous than Frank Sinatra or Joe Dassin. And perhaps he would not even have to sing in English for that. These essentially celebratory, laudatory notes are ill suited to any in-depth comments on the status of the national popular song industry, whether inside the country or abroad – that would have to be a separate article. I will mention only that despite an occasional breakthrough, the world stages are still closed to pop singers from Russia and other East European countries. Having said that, they are not alone to be rejected by the cosmopolitan show business, the same applies to the French and the Germans unless they switch to English and stick to patterns typical of Anglo-Saxon music culture. Eschewing their national individuality, these artists may even gain popularity with the audiences but only at the cost of an endless simplification of music and lyrics (the Swedish Abba is a spectacular example of this although, compared to Rybak, they could be taken for pop philosophers).
And it so happened that our popular song industry put its global ambitions out of mind. Our stars have their own territory and their own, Russian-speaking audiences easily found not only in Russia and Ukraine but also in Germany and the USA, who also have not yet quite finished paying last respects to the superpower where we all come from.
It is a shame, to be honest. We have many talented people capable of conquering the world. Joseph Kobzon is certainly first among equals. The country that is gone into history gave him a lot but his gift is worth more. But mustn’t grumble, as they say. At the end of his concert, he sang the famous song from Frank Sinatra’s repertoire, My Way. He sang it, needless to say, in Russian because he has his own way, different from anybody else’s, on this planet.
Evening Moscow (newspaper)
N. Penkova: A Song and Dance Day. Joseph Kobzon Celebrates His Birthday On Stage
Russia’s number one voice, Joseph Davydovich Kobzon celebrated his 72nd birthday by holding a concert at the Rossia Concert Hall in Luzhniki. Several hours of virtually uninterrupted performance for his friends, family, colleagues and fans left no one cold. The popular opinion is that Kobzon’s songs are a pleasure per se but even more so when he sings them as duets with people we all know.
Joseph Davydovich decided to involve all his large family as well as his star and politician friends in his birthday celebrations. This made them longer than expected, evening turning into night. The packed audience, far from resenting such turn of events, begged for an encore.
The evening saw Valeria, the maestro’s favourite student, flitting on the stage, Vladimir Vinokur and Lev Leschenko telling jokes, Alexander Rozenbaum, dressed as a street tough, singing Ho, Hold Up! The Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, in a street sweeper’s outfit (!), recited verses about Kobzon and joined him in singing The Cabman’s Song.
Next on the agenda was the singer’s daughter Anita’ s performance: she sang a moving little song, The Guardian Angel, while the other “nearest and dearest” rallied round the birthday boy to hug and kiss him. Their plans were disturbed by Kobzon’s scheduled duets with Valentian Legkostupova, Diana Gurtskaya, Alexander Buynov, Tamara Gverdtseteli and Taisia Povaliy, supported naturally by background dancing. Kobzon sang also with the space heroes, Valentina Tereshkova, Alexey Leonov, Georgy Grechko and Alexander and Sergei Volkovs. The first thee-hour half of the concert was wound up by the ever-young Sophia Rotaru and the Turetsky Choir, an indispensable guest at all such shows.
While Boris Moiseyev, Layma Vaykule, Nadezhda Kadysheva and Nikolay Rastorguyev were getting ready to go on stage, all those present were treated to free Zhiguli beer. The second half was even more informal than the first one. Joseph Davydovich sang songs the audience asked for, presented his youngest grandson, Misha, to them and improvised at length. The stage was submerged under an avalanche of flowers and presents. The house exploded in standing ovations. What can one say? Not many of today’s artists can claim such degree of audience’s love. “Perhaps, even none,” said a fan.
- Which of Kobzon’s songs would you call “a people’s song”?
Sergei Goncharov, member of the Moscow Duma: “Life, I Love You.”
E. Andreyeva: The Magnificent Seven
This week’s longest, six-hour, concert was given by Joseph Kobzon. This was the legendary singer’s way of celebrating his 72nd birthday at the Rossia Concert Hall. Joseph Davydovich was not the sole performer. Most of the songs were sung by him and his guests together.
Surgutskaya tribuna (newspaper, Surgut)
I. Burmasov: Our Town Has a New Business Card – a Musical One
The song The Surgut Waltz, lyrics by Vladimir Menshikov, has become a business card of our town.
It was previously sung by bards to guitar accompaniment but it is planned now to give it a proper arrangement and to rope in a well-known singer to sing it for the Surgut people. Requests are being sent to Joseph Kobzon, Lev Leschenko and Yuri Loza.
RIA Novosti - Moscow (newsline)
The RF Ministry of Interior’s Mother Street Project for street children is being launched this year
The Public Council under the Russian Ministry of Interior joins forces with NGOs and human rights organisations to launch a large-scale campaign, Mother Street, aiming above all to attract attention to the problem of street children, Valeriy Gribakin, head of Public Relations at the RF Ministry of Interior, announced at a briefing last Friday.
The campaign in support of children in distress starts on September 25 with a concert at Rossia in Luzhniki, Moscow. Angelika Agurbash, one of the campaign organisers, told us that the concert at Luzhniki will feature such well-known singers as Joseph Kobzon, Tatiana Ovsienko, Alexander Marshal and Yulia Kovalchuk, as well as the Russian Ministry of Interior’s Ensemble and other performers.
The Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov is 73 Today
The Member of the RF State Duma, People’s Artist of the USSR Joseph Kobzon wishes him a happy birthday: I am very happy to have yet another opportunity to profess my love for our mayor. To thank him for what he has done for Moscow, for Russia and its culture. I would like to wish him sterling good health first of all. Yuri, as we can all plainly see, does not want for energy. I hope that Muscovites will have him as their head for many years to come.
Moskovskiy Komsomolets (newspaper)
A. Minkin, Maestro’s Marsterpiece. Gradskiy Sings Bulgakov.
This Wednesday, the world will hear (but not see) a new masterpiece. Alexander Gradskiy will for the first time introduce his listeners (and performers) his opera, The Master and Margarita, adapted from Bulgakov’s famous novel.
Gradskiy has been working on it for 30 years, starting back in Brezhnev’s time, continuing under Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin and finishing under Medvedev. And, it would seem, none of them has cramped his style.
The world, alas, will only hear the opera. It cannot be performed on stage (not now, at any case). Gradskiy recorded it in fragments; about 60 artists sing in it and it is utterly impossible to get them all together on a stage. It is a shame though. If Voland took up the challenge, it is unlikely anyone could say no. But we are talking about a premier not Satan’s ball. Gradskiy sings Voland, Yeshua and the Master – as promised. But – the more you have, the more you want – Gradskiy could not help it and sang, beautifully, the part of Behemoth. The famous Liubov Kazarnovskaya, the fabulous bass from the Bolshoi Theatre, Vladimir Matorin… Other voices have been chosen with discernment, great taste and a sense of humour. Joseph Kobzon sings (beautifully) the High Priest Caiaphas…
Strela (newspaper, Saint Petersburg)
“A song is a sacred being!”- Joseph Kobzon at the October Grand Concert Hall, 29 September
Joseph Kobzon’s repertoire includes over 1,500 songs from different genres – a form of chronicle of our times put to music. Here are just a few comments on the singer’s art by his contemporaries.
Oscar Feltsman, composer: “Kobzon’s talent has many facets: consummate vocal skills, emotional sincerity, the ultimate insight into the poetic message and, at the same time, an amazing geniality in his rapport with the audiences. A heroic ballad, a poignant love story, the clarion call of a martial song and a quiet soulful waltz - he is the master of them all.” Alexandra Pakhmutova, composer: “A song is a sacred being for Kobzon. He treats his material with utmost consideration, even if it is a simple little song.”
Konstantin Vanshenkin, poet: “Kobzon has a wonderful tendency to select songs which he deems to be the best rather than just those he was the first to record. He has never been afraid of competition from other singers, being totally open in this regard… His ability to perform literally for hours and hours is stunning: fresh form a huge solo recital, he can then go and sing for the better half of an evening at another concert.”
Novaya gazeta (Engels)
Looking Forward To an Award
The international Philanthropist Award for disabled people’s achievement in art and culture will be presented to a winner for the sixth time in 2010.
According to the chair of the judges panel, Joseph Kobzon, everyone has a chance to be crowned as the best. Applications can be submitted till 1 November, 2009. An application form and further details about taking part in the competition can be obtained from the website www.filantrop.ru or at the following address: 105005, Moscow, Pleteshkovsky Pereulok, dom 5/3, building 4; Telephones: +7 499 261-14-41 or +7 499 261-14-41.
Krasny Sever (newspaper, Salekhard)
T. Motayeva, Here Comes Yet Another Birthday
Joseph Kobzon, at 72, is as ever full of energy and optimism! He spent six hours on stage singing his hits along with his friends!
Although in the run up to his 72nd birthday’s concert, Here Comes Yet Another Birthday, there were reports in the mass media that the singer, who had had major surgery a month earlier, was re-admitted to hospital... There are as many celebrities backstage as can only be seen at a major combined show at the Rossia Concert Hall in Luzhniki. Many have come from far away. Sophia Rotaru has flown in from Ukraine for a few hours to speak admiringly of the birthday boy and to sing a couple of songs.
- How could I not, Joseph Davydovich has done so much for me! Says Sophia Mikhailovna. – He is so great: you can ask him for help at any time, he will never turn you down!
Kobzon only pops into the changing room for a few minutes. Asked about his health, he grins ironically and says:
- Premature hopes!
He has no time to relax this evening. He mixes with the guests, trying to spend at least a few minutes with each of them…
Suddenly, three roughs are looming in the corridor. People recoil from them! But the fishy trio forge their way unabashed towards the stage. The door guards stiffen. Then - Holy Mother! – we see that it is Alexander Rozenbaum, Lev Leschenko and Vladimir Vinokur! It is their surprise for Kobzon, to sing Ho, Hold Up for him. Needless to say, their song went off with a bang!
- It was here, in Luzhniki, that Joseph and I met in 1985, - recalls Rozenbaum. – A show was on and I came to Joseph to show him some songs, Ho, Hold Up we sang today was among them. I let drop something about my starvation wages at Lenconcert. Joseph promised to help. And you know his word is as good as his deed. We quickly became friends and have not needed a concert as an excuse to see each other since.
Joseph Kobzon’s family, his wife Nelli Mikhailovna, his children Andrei and Natalia and his daughter-in-law Nastia with eighteen-months-old Misha in her arms were there, too, in order to publicly wish him a happy birthday. The little boy had been named in accordance with his granddad’s wishes: the singer’s step-father’s name was Mikhail and so was the boy’s other granddad’s. By the way, he is a long-awaited addition to the family, Joseph Davydovich having five granddaughters before Misha. Seven-year-old Anita sings a song, To Granddaddy, on behalf of all of them. Then the microphone is put to Misha and he babbles words of greetings into it…
There was only an opportunity to ask Joseph Davydovich’s wife about his health. Nelli Mikhailovna is tonight, as always, a reliable aide-de-camp: she monitors the progress of the concert and makes sure that no guest should feel neglected.
- Joseph is well, - says Nelli Mikhailovna. – There are so many people who love him here – they give him strength!
Uralskiy rabochiy (newspaper, Ekaterinburg)
T. Motayeva: Joseph Kobzon Took His Wig Off! To Reveal a Full Head of Silver Hair…
We were worried that the concert, Here Comes Yet Another Birthday, to celebrate Joseph Kobzon’s 72nd birthday might not take place. There were reports the day before that the singer who had serious surgery a month earlier had once again been hospitalised. Luckily it proved to be just another canard. At 72, Joseph Kobzon is as ever full of energy and optimism: he spent six hours on the stage singing his hits with his friends!
There are as many celebrities backstage as can only be seen at a major combined show at the Rossia Concert Hall in Luzhniki. Many have come from far away. Sophia Rotaru has flown in from Ukraine for a few hours to speak admiringly of the birthday boy and to sing a couple of songs.
”How could I not? Joseph Davydovich has done so much for me!” Says Sophia Mikhailovna.
“He is so great: you can ask him for help at any time, he will never turn you away!”
Kobzon only pops into the changing room for a few minutes. Asked about his health, he grins ironically and throws:
He has no time to relax this evening. He mixes with the guests, trying to spend at least a few minutes with each of them.
Nikolay Baskov who on this occasion appears on the stage as master of ceremonies cannot help bursting into song. Boris Moiseyev joins in.
”Joseph Davydovich will celebrate his birthday with his friends later, together with his mother-in-law’s 80th,” we learn in confidence from Nikolay Baskov.
”This is where I will give him my present.”
”And what will it be?” We could not contain our curiosity.
”This is a secret!” Nikolay looks emphatically mysterious.
”And I have already given my present to Joseph Davydovich, an antique watch. It was the first watch manufactured by the famous Swiss watchmakers Omega,” boasts Boris Moiseyev.
“Joseph Davydovich loved it!..”
Suddenly, three roughs appear in the corridor. People recoil from them! But the fishy trio forge their way, unabashed, towards the stage. The door guards stiffen. Then - Holy Mother! – we see that it is Alexander Rozenbaum, Lev Leschenko and Vladimir Vinokur! It is their surprise for Kobzon, to sing Ho, Hold Up for him. Needless to say, their song went off with a bang!
”It was here, in Luzhniki, that Joseph and I met in 1985,” reminisces Alexander Rozenbaum. “A show was on and I came to Joseph to show him some songs, Ho, Hold Up we sang today was among them. I let drop something about my starvation wages at Lenconcert. Joseph promised to help. And you know his word is as good as his deed. We quickly became friends and have not needed a concert as an excuse to see each other since. Although I live in St Petersburg now, we often spend our holidays together – at Joseph’s dacha or in some warmer climes where we take our families. I have brought Joseph a painting by my friend, Konstantin Dverin, as a birthday present. I have called it The Boston Waltz Starring Joseph, it features autumn and Joseph. I think he will like it.
Anita Tsoi has left the stage and is waiting for someone. Soon we see her husband Sergei hurrying towards her, a huge bunch of roses and a small parcel in his hands. But tonight, the roses are not for Anita.
”Mine was the singing part of our family’s present, while my husband was in charge of everything else.” Anita confides in us. “Even I have no idea what he may have got for Joseph Davidovich!”
At this point, Joseph Kobzon’s family, his wife Nelli Mikhailovna, his children Andrei and Natalia and his daughter-in-law Nastia with eighteen-months-old Misha in her arms appear on the stage. The little boy had been named in accordance with his granddad’s wishes: the singer’s step-father’s name was Mikhail and so was the boy’s other granddad’s. By the way, he is a long-awaited addition to the family, all Joseph Davidovich’s grandchildren before Misha being girls. Seven-year-old Anita sings a song, To Granddaddy, on behalf of the five granddaughters. Then the microphone is put to Misha and he babbles words of greetings into it.
Many warm sincere words were addressed to Joseph Kobzon that evening.
”I will never forget our first meeting,” says Diana Gurtskaya who sang the song Father and Daughter (Rodnye liudi) with Joseph Kobzon. “We were in the same show in Tiumen. I was then a beginner, very susceptible, all on edge. Joseph Davydovich – a legend! – came up to me and said: “What’s wrong, little one, are you worried? Don’t be! You will be fine!” After I finished singing, it was most important to me what Kobzon would say. And there he was, after the performance, saying I was good and giving me a hug and a kiss. It brought home to me what a great man he is! Later, too, on joint tours, I often saw him approaching every performer to ask how they were doing, whether they had eaten or not, slept well or not… We are always aware that we performers have a father, a person who cares, who is looking after us. It’s Joseph Kobzon! He has always been supporting us and today we want to support him!”
There was only an opportunity to ask Joseph Davydovich’s wife about his health. Nelli Mikhailovna is tonight, as always, a reliable aide-de-camp: she keeps an eye on the progress of the concert and makes sure that no guest should feel neglected.
”Joseph is well,” - says Nelli Mikhailovna. “There are so many people here who love him – they give him strength!”
Joseph Kobzon is on the stage. Then… another Joseph Kobzon walks on. The same sober suit and exactly the same haircut. And he sings Don’t Treat Seconds With Disdain… in Kobzon’s voice. What is going on, which of the two Kobzons is the real one? The audience is totally confused. And then, Kobzon II, having finished singing the famous hit from Seventeen Moments of Spring, says to his double: “I take my hat off to you, Joseph.” And off comes the wig to reveal… Vladimir Vinokur’s full head of silver hair! Which the real Kobzon parries with a smile: “But I won’t take mine off to you!”
The audience explodes with laughter and applause.
20:30 Package No 5 (TVC Events)
Yu. Bogdanov, T. Tsypliayeva
Yuri Luzhkov greeted the best teachers, winners of regional competitions. They will now go on to compete for the title of The Russian Teacher of the Year… Last year, the winner was Mikhail Starodubtsev, a music teacher from Moscow, which is why this year’s finals will take place in Moscow. A duet sung by Joseph Kobzon and Yuri Luzhkov was the highlight of a concert put on for the teachers.
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