Mikhail Voskresensky, an 87-year-old pianist, longtime chair of the piano department at the Moscow Conservatory, is one of hundreds of thousands of Russians who have fled the country since Vladimir Putin launched his war on Ukraine.
Given Voskresensky’s prominence as an artist and teacher, he ought to be one of the more publicized musical refugees – on a par with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich after his emigration from the Soviet Union in 1974, or, more recently, Valentyn Sylvestrov, the 85-year-old Ukrainian composer now sheltering in Berlin.
Voskresensky, however, is not well-known outside of Russia, and rarely was allowed to perform abroad. The authorities soured on him after he refused to pass messages to Soviet intelligence officers while on tour in the US in the early 1960s, Franklin Foer writes in The Atlantic. “It took 13 years for the state to forgive his reticence and permit him a tour of the West.”
After the invasion began, Voskresensky was shocked at associates’ support of Putin’s war. “Since we started it, we have no choice but to win it,” a friend told him. He decided that “I’m guilty if I live in this society,” the pianist told Foer. “I had this feeling that was ethically hard to live with.”
Foer recounts the pianist’s lengthy and bureaucratically fraught escape from Russia, first to Turkey, then to Italy, on the way to a teaching engagement at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. As the festival’s president, Alan Fletcher, “tracked Voskresensky’s progress from afar, he distracted himself by watching ‘The Third Man,’ because he felt as if he had been transported into a Cold War noir,” Foer writes.
Voskresensky and his family now live in an apartment in New York’s Bronx borough. Opportunities to teach await paperwork from immigration authorities. Steinway offered him a piano, but movers couldn’t get it up a narrow staircase. He makes do with a Yamaha electric on loan.
“I never wanted to be a political person,” he tells Foer. “I’m a man of the arts.”