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Marina Frolova-Walker FBA appointed 36th Gresham Professor of Music

18th July 2019

Gresham College, London’s oldest Higher Education Institution, is delighted to announce the appointment of Marina Frolova-Walker, Professor of Music History at the University of Cambridge, as the next Gresham Professor of Music.

Past Gresham Professors of Music include John Bull, Iannis Xenakis, John Dankworth, and Christopher Hogwood. Frolova-Walker is the second woman to hold this position in the College’s history (after Joanna MacGregor).

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker is a specialist in the Russian music of the 19th and 20th centuries. She has published extensively on Russian music and is a well-known lecturer and broadcaster for BBC Radio 3. Among her many awards and appointments, she is a Fellow of the British Academy and was awarded the Edward Dent Medal in 2015 by the Royal Musical Association for her achievements in musicology. She was a Visiting Professor of Russian Music at Gresham in 2018-19.

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker said:“I am honoured and excited to take up the position of 36th Gresham Professor of Music, and I am delighted to have such eminent predecessors as John Bull and Iannis Xenakis. Bringing knowledge about music to a broader public has always been one of my passions, and the work of several recent Professors of Music such as David Owen Norris and Roger Parker has been an inspiration for my own activities as a public lecturer.

“My first lecture series features the artistic project of the Ballets Russes, brainchild of the great impresario Serge Diaghilev. Prior to Diaghilev, no one thought that ballet could be transformed into a provocatively modern art, a platform for cutting-edge experiments in music, choreography and design. The project had its roots in Diaghilev’s inspired marketing of “Russianness” in the Parisian arts world, and he continued to develop his ideas until his circle had become an international hotbed of artistic innovation. “Surprise me!”, Diaghilev would say to anyone with a new proposal, and he did indeed bring about a stream of artworks that still surprise and delight us today.”

As Gresham Professor of Music Professor Frolova-Walker will continue the 421-year-old tradition of delivering free lectures aimed at the public within the City of London and beyond. During the academic year, Gresham College fills lecture halls for its lectures – a total of 130 a year. All Gresham lectures are live-streamed. More than 2,000 past lectures are freely available to view on the College’s website. The Music Professorship is one of the original seven Gresham Professorships established in Sir Thomas Gresham’s will.

Sir Richard Evans, Provost of Gresham College, said:

“We are delighted to welcome such a distinguished Professor of Music to Gresham College and we look forward to Marina Frolova-Walker bringing her expertise as Britain’s leading authority on Russian music to our Music lecture programme”

More about the College’s work:

A series of six lectures per year is delivered by each of the College’s ten Professors. These are augmented by series presented by Visiting Professors and as many as 40 individual lectures from a range of illustrious speakers selected from the worlds of academia, the arts, law, medicine, politics and industry.

Professor Frolova-Walker’s 2019-20 lecture series:

1. Exporting Russia: Diaghilev’s Beginnings 24 Sep 2019, 6pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall

The great Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev didn’t have enough talent to become an artist or enough money to become a patron. His gifts were in inspiring, facilitating and marketing unique artistic products. In this lecture we follow his first steps: from the provocative modern journal The World of Art to bringing Russian visual arts and then music to Paris – culminating in the production of Musorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov.

2. The Ballets Russes: Courting the Exotic 29 Oct 2019, 6pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall

Diaghilev’s realisation that the Russian-Oriental style beloved of Russian composers chimed well with the Parisians’ taste for the exotic, resulted in a spate of exciting new ballets that exploited the Eastern theme. They became so successful as to influence Parisian fashions. Yet Russia itself was just as exotic when taken through a prism of folk-inspired art. Diaghilev’s accidental discovery of Stravinsky served him extraordinarily well in making the old tropes of nationalism and exoticism distinctively new and modern.

3. The Rite of Spring: A Failure and a Triumph 21 Jan 2020, 6pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall

The Rite of Spring, a ballet conceived by Stravinsky in collaboration with Nijinsky and Roerich, may have been Diaghilev’s most notorious fiasco, but it introduced a new aesthetic of ugliness and mechanistic movement that opened new horizons. We will trace some of the musical, visual and choreographical consequences of this shift through later Diaghilev ballets: Parade (Satie/Picasso), Chout (Prokofiev/Larionov), and Le Pas d’Acier (Prokofiev/Yakulov).

4. The Ballets Russes: Playing with the Past 18 Feb 2020, 6pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall

Diaghilev prided himself not only on the destruction of conventional ballet, but also on the preservation of the tough classical schooling of his troupe which allowed them to perform on pointe at the drop of a hat. As soon as ugliness became one of the accepted possibilities for ballet, the beauty came back and with it neoclassical music and choreography. And a Greek, “antique” type of ballet, which used to serve up another shade of “Classical” exoticism, met up with neoclassicism in Stravinsky/Balanchine’s Apollo.

5. The Ballets Russes: Turning French 7 Apr 2020, 6pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall

Modernity kept seeping into the genre of ballet which had traditionally concerned itself with distant past. The tutu gave way to an everyday tennis costume in Jeux by Debussy/Nijinski, ragtime rang out in Parade by Satie/Picasso, and in the 1920s Diaghilev decided to go completely native and staged a series of French ballets from the life of contemporary high society. The scores of Milhaud and Poulenc sparkled with popular turns of musical phrase while Coco Chanel made the costumes…

6. Diaghilev and Prokofiev: Return to Emotion, 12 May 2020, 6pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall

Diaghilev moved the arts forward by constantly creating the opposite of what had been successful in the past. At various points he had removed almost all semblance of plot, elaborate costumes, emotional expression, profundity of meaning – only to reinstate them many years later. In this final lecture of the course we will concentrate on one of the best-preserved Diaghilev artefacts: the ballet Prodigal Son (Prokofiev/Balanchine/Rouault). What signalled a new beginning becameDiaghilev’s final word when he died in the summer of 1929.