ASHKENAZY: Beyond Frontiers by Jasper with Vladimir Ashkenazy Parrott

ASHKENAZY: Beyond Frontiers

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Parrott is pianist/conductor Ashkenazy's longtime agent-manager; and this odd book, part memoir and part polemic, is an awkward combination of third-person narration (Parrott) and first-person testimony (Ashkenazy)--with neither the steady immediacy of autobiography nor the objectivity of biography. Ashkenazy's life/career story does emerge here: Moscow childhood as the son of a much-absent, Jewish (in name only) musician and a doting Russian Orthodox mother; intense training in the effective but restrictive Soviet music-education system; teenage successes, US tours; reluctant participation (under fierce official pressure) in the 1962 Tchaikovsky Competition, sharing the first prize; marriage to Icelandic musician Dody; and a gradually staged defection to London in 1963, the culmination of Ashkenazy's distaste for the ""fundamental falseness permeating daily life in Soviet Russia."" Unlike those defectors who have allowed their stories to speak for themselves, however, Ashkenazy--frequently through the inappropriate voice of co-author Parrott--again and again takes to the platform, repetitiously railing against the Soviet system. Some of these tirades, when they involve specific examples from the stiffing Russian music-world, are bracing, if no longer surprising. More often, regrettably, Parrott/Ashkenazy--with no firsthand knowledge after 1963--offers over-familiar generalizations about Soviet life (""Everyone cheats and steals""), the Soviet threat, the gullibility of Western left-wingers, etc. Worse yet, Ashkenazy tends to depersonalize his own background, his career-choices, his occasional problems, explaining virtually everything in ideological terms. (During his early ÉmigrÉ years, ""Ashkenazy remembers that he too was prone to many of the suspicions and misconceptions to which the Soviet mind can easily fall victim."" As for the unprofessional behavior of some ÉmigrÉs, ""these bad habits are learned early in life in the Soviet Union."") And the result is a blurry, sanctimonious self-portrait--compound. ed by Parrott's near-hagiographic tributes to Ashkenazy's ""consummate professionalism': unlike other conductors, he's uninterested in ""the ladder of fame and power""; he ""believes passionately that man's relation to man, in the sense of each person's essential individuality, is the key to all our finest hopes and aspirations."" Unfortunate, ill-organized presentation of an unquestionably principled and admirable artist--with none of the power found in the memoirs of Soviet defectors from Panov to Vishnevskaya.

Pub Date: Jan. 21st, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum