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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PAPARAZZI: Japanese Pull Strings And Capture Hearts

Valery Zaitsev was among the most-qualified of the 400 guests present for the first of two performances of traditional Japanese music and dance at the Et Cetera Theater.

"I was in Okinawa decades ago and I had been wondering what had happened with this Okinawa Island," said Zaitsev, a Japan specialist and deputy director of the Institute of World Economic and International Relations. "I am very satisfied to be able to say that nothing has happened -- there are the same beautiful dances, the same inspiring music."

The mainly Russian crowd last Wednesday shared Zaitsev's enthusiasm, loudly applauding a Tokyo-based company playing the shamisen, a three-string guitar-like instrument from northern Japan. The audience broke into cries of delight when the musicians made their wailing shamisens sound like Russian balalaikas and struck up a rendition of the folk song "Kalinka."

Northern Japanese seriousness gave way to southern color and laughter in the second half of the evening's performance. An Okinawan troupe staged an impressive display of dances depicting themes of love, harvest and courtlife, complete with a lion that snapped its wooden jaws at front-row spectators.

While the music and dances have stayed the same for centuries, Ambassador Takehiro Togo said one thing that has changed, for the better, is Japanese-Russian relations. At a reception, he said the concert was part of a year-long Festival of Japanese Culture in Moscow.

Overdue Book

Georgy Vladimov, one of Russia's leading novelists, returned from his exile to a benefit last week thrown by a literary patron.

A political novelist who has lived in Germany since his forced emigration from the Soviet Union in 1983, Vladimov was the guest of honor last Tuesday at the Maly Manezh Gallery. The NFQ Publishing Group released a four-volume anthology of Vladimov's writings, which includes the 1995 Russian Booker Prize-winning novel "A General and His Army."

"It's as if something magic has happened," said Vladimov, 67. "There's this person who is putting up his own money ... he's continuing a tradition of artistic patronage in Russia."

"Vladimov was always able to help other people, he was the head of the Moscow branch of Amnesty International for six years, but he never asked anything for himself," said NFQ director Boris Goldman, "Well, you have to pay some debts in your life, and this is a chance to help someone out who deserves it."

Among the literary, theatrical and political figures at the reception were human rights activist Yelena Bonner and Natasha Solzhenitsyn.

Solzhenitsyn said her husband, the Nobel laureate novelist, had always been a faithful reader and correspondent of Vladimov's in their mutual exile.

"Vladimov is not a flashy person; he's very quiet but very deep," she said, "My husband was a brave man, everyone knows that, but he wasn't alone."

Solzhenitsyn said Vladimov also would like to return to Russia permanently, but is waiting for the return of his apartment, seized along with his passport by the Soviet regime. "It's our government," she sighed. "They almost never fulfill their promises."

The Power of Youth

Galina Kitaigorodskaya said it was her interest in Russia's youth that led her to act as a judge for the third time at the third-annual Professional Success awards sponsored by Cosmopolitan magazine held at the State Historical Museum last Tuesday. Cosmopolitan is published by Independent Media, owners of The Moscow Times.

"The generations change so quickly," she said. "Families were forced to live together in the past and children were too dependent on their parents, but now the barriers have fallen and the children have begun to take the initiative and organize some fantastic things."

At age 62 and after 40 years of teaching education at Moscow State University, Kitaigorodskaya is entitled to refer to professional businesswomen as children. But it was Tatyana Smirnova, a 34-year-old mother of two, who came away with the title and first prize, a new Ford Ka automobile.

One of 27 finalists invited to Moscow, Smirnova was honored for her work in Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky in the Far East. Over the past five years she has organized two newspapers for women and produced women's programs for regional television.

Going, Going, Gone

"Have you ever heard of a bearded vulture being turned into a lamp and sold at an auction?" asked Peter Batkin.

Batkin, senior director for Sotheby's, said the porcelain vulture along with a used Soyuz space capsule rank among the strangest items he's had the pleasure of selling in his 25 years wielding a gavel.

Having started work for Sotheby's when he was 20, Batkin said it was "a long road, lucky breaks and being in the right place at the right time" that led to his rise from porter to auctioneer to senior director of the 250-year-old auction house.

Batkin said he still picks up the gavel on special occasions, and it was in this capacity that he and Sotheby's joined forces with the Moscow Auction House last Thursday.

Looking dapper in a gray suit, vest, wing-tip shoes and a colorful bow tie, Batkin maintained an air of calm dignity as he presided over a sale of artwork that ranged from a miniature painting that sold for several hundred dollars to a $5,000 cameo of Catherine the Great to a $17,000 set of Karelian birch furniture. And Batkin presided in Russian, a language he said he picked up not from his Russian grandparents but from his 250 trips here over the past decade. Though Sotheby's has only held one sale here -- a contemporary art auction in 1988 -- Batkin said it continues to test the waters of the Russian market.

The Moscow Auction House's foreign partners, Mikhail Kofman and Kalim El-Akabi of the London-based Supply and Management developers, said they were pleased with the auction, which attracted 100 bidders and standing-room-only spectators.

"This is the cream of Russia's business elite, the cream of Russian society, " Kofman said.

The sale went without a hitch, without any serious bidding duels and without the sort of incident that Batkin recalled having taken place in London just after Elvis Presley's death in 1977.

"In the middle of a sale, a man came in off the street, stood up on a table and sang 'Blue Suede Shoes,' finished, left, and we continued with the sale," said Batkin, adding "No, it wasn't an auction of Elvis memorabili a."

Keys to Success

Coming to Russia is like coming home for American Daniel Pollack.

A judge at this year's Tchaikovsky Competition, Pollack is a professional pianist who said his career was launched when he took a prize at the competition's inaugural meeting in 1958. The son of Soviet emigres, Pollack said the people's knowledge of and enthusiasm for music makes Russia his favorite place to work.

"When you've touched their soul, they show it," he said. "People still walk up to me 40 years later, and say they remember my performance. ... They still carry programs from 1958."

Pollack took time out Monday at the National Hotel -- where competition guest Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski was just arriving -- to enjoy a free morning before the evening's third and final round.

Pollack said the contest would be improved by better screening of contestants from abroad.

"Russians refer to these people as tourists," he said, "meaning, 'Well, I came here and I didn't pass, who cares, now I can go tour the Kremlin, and I can go see the icons."

But Pollack said beside offering an opportunity to hear as-yet undiscovered talent, the best part of judging is when competitors pull out all the stops and show their ability to break onto the world stage.

"When the pianist goes over the top, and the audience has caught that moment, too, and screams and yells, and kind of reinforces what that feeling is for you," he said, "It's not too often that those two things happen together, but when it does it's a spectacular moment."

Asked if such a moment had occurred this year, Pollack said it had and hinted it involved British finalist Frederick Kempf.