On Sunday, May 21, an extraordinary, all-star lineup of internationally renowned musicians came together in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage to celebrate Andrei Sakharov—the late physicist, humanist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner for championing universal human rights, disarmament, and peace—in whose name the European Union established the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Pianist Evgeny Kissin, cellist Steven Isserlis and the Emerson String Quartet were joined by violinists Gidon Kremer and Maxim Vengerov and pianists Lera Auerbach and Georgijs Osokins. The concert marks the final Carnegie Hall appearance for the Emerson String Quartet as part of their farewell season. This historic musical celebration takes place on what would have been Mr. Sakharov’s 102nd birthday after the originally planned centennial concert in 2021 was postponed due to the pandemic.
The tribute concert opened with violinist Gidon Kremer performing Igor Loboda’s Requiem for solo violin, a work written by the Georgian composer in response to the Crimea conflict in 2014. The program also included Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Violin Sonata No. 6, Op. 136bis, featuring Mr. Kremer—an ardent champion of the Polish-born Russian composer—collaborating with pianist Georjis Osokins. Weinberg, whose music is rarely performed, was a close friend of Shostakovich and is considered a major composer of Soviet Russia who suffered under the Stalin regime. The centerpiece of the concert was the culminating work on the program—Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81—performed by Evgeny Kissin and the Emerson String Quartet. Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, featuring Maxim Vengerov and Evgeny Kissin; Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5, Étude-tableau in A Minor, and Étude-tableau in C Major, performed by Lera Auerbach; and Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 with Maxim Vengerov, Steven Isserlis, and Evgeny Kissin completed the performance.
“The legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich once told me that Andrei Sakharov was ‘the greatest man of the twentieth century,’” said Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director. “Especially with the dark times that we face in the world today, it is ever more important that we revisit his legacy as we summon our own courage and commitment to fight for the right for everyone to live in a free society. We are deeply grateful to Evgeny Kissin and the remarkable group of artists who will come together to pay tribute through this meaningful performance.”
“Andrei Sakharov was my hero for as long as I can remember,” said Evgeny Kissin. “As soon as the idea of organizing a concert to honor him came about, I was fully committed. I contacted the other artists, and we put together a program. We had to postpone the concert because of the pandemic. Fortunately, the Andrei Sakharov Foundation was really dedicated, while Carnegie Hall was incredibly supportive of the idea, so the concert is going ahead, two years after Mr. Sakharov’s centennial. His ideas and moral authority are ever more relevant today.”
Andrei Sakharov grew up in a family where music, poetry, languages, and politics were part of his daily life; his father was a physicist and amateur pianist. In 1972, he joined with Rostropovich—a fellow defender of personal freedoms—to form a committee protesting the Soviet crackdown on dissidents and appealing for an end to the death penalty and the release of political prisoners in the USSR. Throughout his lifetime, there were various tribute concerts to honor him, including a 1984 Carnegie Hall performance by the Soviet Émigré Orchestra under Lazar Gosman which took place during Sakharov’s hunger strike while he was under internal exile in the Soviet Union. The featured soloist for the performance was pianist Dmitri Shostakovich, grandson of the famed composer.
About Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989)
As one of the most influential humanists and scientists of the twentieth century, Andrei Sakharov continues to be acclaimed throughout the world more than 100 years after his birth. Initially known as the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Sakharov captured the imagination of millions around the world when, in 1968, he wrote Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom, which became one of the world’s most published books. Realizing that he was instrumental in creating the most powerful weapon in history, Sakharov began studying the consequences of nuclear testing, writing about the impact of radiation on humans and nature. He urged governments to ban all but underground nuclear tests and became one of the initiators of the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water signed in Moscow (1963).
Awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, the Nobel Committee called him “the conscience of humanity.” In 1988, the European Union created the highest tribute paid to human rights work, and each year it honors recipients with the Sakharov Freedom of Thought Prize. Since 2006, the American Physical Society biannually awards the Andrei Sakharov Prize to scientists for “outstanding leadership and achievements in upholding human rights.” Additionally, the Russian Academy of Sciences awards a gold Sakharov Medal for outstanding research in particle physics. Avenues and institutes in many countries are named after Andrei Sakharov and several cities are graced by statues of him.
Throughout his life, Sakharov continued his struggle for human rights, disarmament, and cooperation between nations. He gave interviews to foreign correspondents and published timely relevant articles “The World in Fifty Years,” “My Country and the World,” and “Alarm and Hope.” In several 1979 interviews, he condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As a result, he was stripped of all state awards by administrative order and exiled to Gorky, a city that was closed to outsiders by the Soviets because of its strategic importance as a military industrial center. Released from his seven-year exile by President Gorbachev, Sakharov returned to Moscow in December 1986. He traveled abroad to continue his work for peace, meeting with renowned scientists, heads of states, and other dignitaries.
IGOR LOBODA Requiem
BRAHMS Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major
RACHMANINOFF Prelude in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5
RACHMANINOFF Étude-tableau in A Minor
RACHMANINOFF Étude-tableau in C Major
SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Trio No. 2
WEINBERG Violin Sonata No. 6, Op. 136bis
DVOŘÁK Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81
Photo of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov: Commons, RIA Novosti archive, image #25981 / Vladimir Fedorenko / CC-BY-SA 3.0