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Dear Friends,

Part of the joy and privilege of our small enterprise is the engagement, big heartedness, and collaborative spirit of our community (this starts with the American Purpose team). The following are excerpts from recent letters I thought you might appreciate.

• Concert pianist Elena Klionsky writes:

Reading [last week’s Weekly] about Renée Fleming brought me back to my Juilliard days and the Master Classes by Leonard Bernstein. Those were unbelievable experiences, each moment was unique because Bernstein was so fun, so open, so full of life and love of music! In those days he chain-smoked and nobody minded it. Renée Fleming studied in Juilliard and her Master Class carries the Juilliard ambiance in the best way — kind yet incredibly knowledgeable, tough, and highly professional. Her attitude is so soothing yet strict. She is there to teach and to guide anyone who wants her guidance. She first encourages, then criticizes. Not all at Juilliard worked that way … one of my piano teachers threw shoes at me!

• Historian Allen Guelzo weighs in on great American composers:

Thank you for that generous mention of Samuel Barber. My inclination is to hand the palm for ‘greatest American composer’ to Charles Ives, and though I’ve never read any comments Ives made about Barber, my guess is that they would be irascible and dismissive. That said, though, I find much to enjoy in Barber (in fact, I live just fifteen minutes away from his birthplace in West Chester), and regard his most ingenious composition as the Overture for the School for Scandal, which he wrote as an 18-year-old at Curtis Institute. The slow theme in the middle for English horn is simply heavenly.

• Political scientist and editorial board member Dan Chirot writes about a piece (Opens in a new window) we’ve published on Catherine the Great by Polish scholar Andrzej Nowak:

Professor Nowak interprets the past in modern nationalistic terms that were simply not present in Catherine’s time. One of the hallmarks of empires like hers was that it accommodated the local elites and customs of conquered areas as long as they did not revolt. Local landowners mostly kept their lands and most remained loyal to Russia. It was a bad bargain for local peasants who often tended to become serfs ruled by local elites. It wasn’t until the 1890s that Russification became serious. In fact when Russia took over Finland in 1809 Tsar Alexander I spoke to the local Parliament, run by the Swedish landowning elite, to promise that he would protect their property rights, their Protestant religion, and all their customs. He addressed them in French. Only at the very end of the 19th Century, under Tsar Nicholas II, did Russia start trying to turn Finns and Swedes into Russians, and that of course gave rise to Finnish nationalism. The same happened in other European parts of the Empire.

• Former member of Congress Mickey Edwards shares an idea:

A piece i’d love to see: … i’m a russophile — the great composers, not just the big names but the incredible gamut — glazunov, glinka, khachaturian — the writers, the gorkys and chekhovs, chernyshevsky, yevtushenko (with whom i once had a delightful conversation) — the bolshoi and kirov, both of which i’ve attended and marveled at, and how this incredible artistic output — the epitome of civilized society — could coincide with a history of barbarism and dictatorship and flourish in the midst of it.

• In reference to Russia’s war on Ukraine, an informed friend there writes:

The Kremlin plans to continue the ‘operation’ — it has to become a routine. The blood price does not worry these guys. We see radicalization of the militarist segment of society — about 20 percent of [the] population. We are moving toward a new stage of bloodbath.

Ukraine Bleeds, China Pleads

Russia’s “operation” certainly does continue. The International Committee of the Red Cross says roughly 10,000 civilians “are on the brink of survival” in and around Bakhmut. According to the World Bank, Russia has caused $2.5 billion in damage to medical facilities in Ukraine. Nearly 1,000 medical facilities have been partially or fully destroyed by Russian artillery shelling and aerial attacks; 650 ambulances and 596 pharmacies have been rendered non-functional.

Last month, Beijing outlined its 12-point peace plan. This month, Chinese President Xi Jinping — just days after the International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin for mass kidnappings of children from Ukraine — traveled to Moscow, where he described China’s position on the conflict as “impartial.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is expected in Beijing today. Spain assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union in July. Sanchez says he’ll tell Xi that it is the Ukrainians themselves who will decide when a peace process begins.

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to arrive in Beijing on April 4. We’ve just hosted our friend and National Assembly deputé Ben Haddad for a preview of the visit — and discussion of current strikes and protests in France against pension reform (thanks to editorial board member Patrick Chamorel for initiating and moderating the Leaders’ Circle (Opens in a new window) conversation).

Last week, we hosted in Washington — together with Greg Feifer’s Institute of Current World Affairs and Juleanna Glover’s Ridgely Walsh — a delegation of senior parliamentarians from Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Spain, and Canada. Western unity will be tested this crucial calendar year.

Liberalism Struggles, Advocates Fight

Keep an eye out for Nancy Yu on China. “Liberals” she writes,

have been slow to leverage history to their cause.… Chinese arguments for liberalism often begin with ahistorical values such as equality, individual liberty, and universal human rights — values that are supposedly innate and self-evident but that lack any grounding in Chinese political tradition.

Yu finds important ideas for a different approach in Shi Zhan’s Hub: 3000 Years of China, a book now popular among Chinese students, entrepreneurs, and technocrats.

We can’t have enough quality ideas or sources of inspiration. Dan Weiss talks about museums as a civic enterprise of “shared, uplifting purpose” providing ways to discover “perspectives larger than our own.” Dan is the president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He joined Dorothy Kosinski, director emerita of the Phillips Collection in Washington, for a discussion this week on the arts and society that included debate on the pressure from left and right to curb expression. You can watch a recording of the event here (Opens in a new window).

Tom Carothers has a piece next week with co-author Ben Feldman on “democratic bright spots” — how to bolster, what’s to be learned.

Meanwhile, friends have alerted me to attacks by Communist officials on academic exchange programs for Hong Kong scholars. “Slander” of the Chinese will no longer be tolerated. “Academy scoundrels” cultivated by the West must be dealt with. “We must plug the loopholes in the education sector that endanger national security,” says a party organ. Here’s (Opens in a new window) the article. I have an English translation if you’re interested.

Art and Music

Dan Weiss and Dorothy Kosinski prompted me to think about art influencing music. Mickey Edwards and Dan Chirot have me thinking about Russian history and music.

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a piano suite in ten movements, is a musical depiction of a tour of an exhibition of works by Russian architect and painter Viktor Hartmann displayed at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. Mussorgsky wrote Pictures at an Exhibition in three weeks, in June 1874, a year after Hartmann’s sudden death from an aneurysm at age 39. Both Hartmann and Mussorgsky were passionate about creating art that was distinctly Russian in character.

About Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky once wrote in a letter to a patron, “His nature is narrow-minded … blindly believing in the ridiculous theories of his circle and in his own genius.… Yet he has flashes of talent which are, moreover, not devoid of originality.”

Here’s (Opens in a new window) beautiful, stirring music, Pictures at an Exhibition, with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

My best,


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