The Robert Shaw Chorale’s 1962 Soviet Tour

To improve cultural and state relations during the Cold War, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. traded ideas, technology, scholars, and artists. As part of these exchanges, the U.S. State Department sponsored a seven-week Russian tour of the Robert Shaw Chorale. The Chorale’s repertoire for the tour included Schubert’s Mass in G, pieces by Debussy and Gershwin, some African American spirituals, Bach’s Mass in B minor, and Arnold Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden (“Peace on Earth”).

The Chorale’s first performance in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) coincided with a dramatic moment of political conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.—the Cuban missile crisis. [click on article to enlarge]

Among other events of the Russian tour, Shaw visited a group of young Russian artists. Their apartment was filled with abstract art, as well as five religious icons that had been painted since the initial performance four weeks earlier of the B Minor Mass. The painter of these icons was Yuri Vassilievich Titov, a graduate of the Moscow Architectural Institute, shown here with his wife, Lena.

Yuri Titov

The B Minor Mass took on profound personal and artistic significance for Titov. Following the Chorale’s Moscow performance of the Mass, Titov began to focus on spiritual and iconographic painting, according to Titov’s close associate and friend, composer Kamil Tchalaev. Titov proffered his icon of Jesus to Shaw with the following blessing: “And may this Russian Spas [God] be from now on your guardian.”

Yuri Titov

Yuri Titov

Titov’s involvement with religion, as well as his practice of experimental art, attracted the attention of the Soviet government, which labeled him a dissident. The Soviet crackdown on “free experimentation” in the arts is chronicled here by a friend of Shaw’s who worked in the U.S.S.R. for the U.S. State Department.

Yuri Titov and his family were often imprisoned in so-called psychiatric clinics, as shown in this drawing by Titov, in which he depicts his imprisonment.

In 1972, the KGB advised Titov and his family to leave the country, but much of Titov’s art was destroyed as they passed through customs. Titov settled in Paris, and at the present day, he continues to produce art. Read more about Yuri Titov here.

-Elizabeth Pinborough and Emily Ferrigno

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