program 1

The painting of icons, or holy pictures, was the first art that Russia made her own. By 988, the Eastern tradition of icon painting had been nearly destroyed by a series of Byzantine emperors, the original iconoclasts. But the newly converted Russians revived the art, combined it with powerful symbols of indigenous folk culture, and made it an inspiring expression of Christian faith. In this first episode, viewers see how the purely religious tradition of the icon soared toward abstraction in Russia, influencing the birth of modern art in the early 1900s, and then helped legitimize secular political power in the Soviet era. Audiences witness the rededication of a monastery that had been used as a military barracks. They also see an Old Believers baptism and experience the isolated serenity of Ferapontovo in the North, with its ethereal frescoes by Dionysius and the melodious bells that symbolized both power and faith. Viewers then visit the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev and go inside the beautiful Cathedral of the Assumption in the Moscow Kremlin at the time of the attempted Communist putsch of August 1991.

program 2

This program traces the growth of Russian architecture from the Eastern-inspired onion domes and tent roofs of the early wooden churches to the sprawling palaces and vertical spires of secular St. Petersburg. Viewers visit baroque palaces such as Peterhof, with fountains and classical statuary that echo the elegant parks of Italy and France; Rastrelli’s famed Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, and his Summer Palace at nearby Tsarskoe Selo. The program also explores the novel, especially the extraordinary achievement of writer Nikolai Gogol, who saw St. Petersburg as a heartless city—a city for parades rather than for people. The program takes an in-depth look at Gogol’s work of literary genius, Dead Souls, an inspiration to the radicals of the nineteenth century, dissidents of the Soviet period, and filmmakers and theater producers today.

program 3

Old Russia considered instrumental music to be the work of the devil; and no musical instruments were permitted in Russian Orthodox churches. The imperial court played Italian-style music; but only in the late nineteenth century, coinciding with the rise of the Russian revolutionary movement, did Russian music suddenly explode through the efforts of talented, unconventional composers. In this episode, viewers meet Musorgsky, the genius of this group, who dramatized in his operatic masterpiece, Boris Godunov, the conflict between Russia’s rulers and its people, its reverence for tradition and its passion for revolution. The program then introduces Sergei Eisenstein, the film director and brilliant innovator, who united all forms of Russian art into the new icon of film. His revolutionary cinema of the early Soviet period retold history with such power that the images became more real than the events—challenging today’s filmmakers to use the cinema to continue reshaping the face of Russia. Finally, the program examines how Russia’s traditional and new art forms are influencing the country’s current political process and its emerging democracy.

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