After all the presents were open, and while the library was still closed, I borrowed the book my daughter had just finished reading. Stormy Applause: Making Music in a Worker’s State (Northeastern University Press) was written by Rostislav Dubinsky, who was the teacher of my daughter’s viola teacher. Dubinsky spent twenty years as first violinist for the Borodin Quartet in the Soviet Union.
This book is a memoir of those years—years spent dealing with the politics of the quartet and the politics of the USSR, along with its unbelievably convoluted bureaucracy. The fact that Dubinsky was a Jew added an extra twist to what the quartet was allowed or compelled to do. When they were allowed to tour capitalist countries, they were accompanied by what they called their “Fifth,” whose official job was interpreter but who was actually the quartet’s “own personal spy who could change our future with a single word.”
Stormy Applause is saved from being a dark tale by Dubinsky’s irony and sense of humour. We end up laughing, because what else can we do?