The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival (GLCMF) has collaborated with acclaimed playwright James Glossman and founding member of the Emerson String Quartet, Philip Setzer, to present the world premiere of Shostakovich and The Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy

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Festival breaks ground with star-studded take on music and theater

Co-Creator returns to Detroit for world premiere of “Shostakovich and The Black Monk”

DETROIT, Mich. (June 5, 2017) — The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival (GLCMF) has collaborated with acclaimed playwright James Glossman and founding member of the Emerson String Quartet, Philip Setzer, to present the world premiere of Shostakovich and The Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy. The star-studded music-theater hybrid debuts on the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Detroit Film Theatre stage on Saturday, June 17 at 8 p.m. with Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd, CBS’ Blue Bloods) and Jay O. Sanders (The Day After Tomorrow, Green Lantern) alongside the nine-time Grammy Award-winning Emerson String Quartet.

“This is by far the most ambitious artistic project that the Festival has ever undertaken,” said Maury Okun, President of GLCMF. “It’s a one-of-a-kind marriage of theater and chamber music telling a story of freedom, liberty, artistic expression and what happens when those are taken away from us.”

Shostakovich and The Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy serves as the Festival’s largest production to date, combining a number of creative disciplines into one live event culminating in the heart of Detroit before moving on to a national tour.

“Wherever this production goes, it’s going with ‘Detroit’ stamped on it,” said James Glossman, Detroit native and Co-Creator of the production. “This is my hometown and it has gone through a lot of rough times. To watch the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival prevail and for art to take hold in a place like this is like the phoenix rising from the ashes, and if that’s not relevant in Detroit, what is?”

Behind the Production

The ground-breaking work tells the story of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s lifelong obsessive quest to create an opera based on Russian literary master Anton Chekhov’s mystical tale, “The Black Monk.” Shostakovich’s work would go on to be undermined and eventually thwarted by Joseph Stalin and his commanding Soviet regime following a scathing “anonymous” review in the Soviet Union’s leading Communist newspaper.

“There’s something communicative in his work and his music speaks to me in a way that almost no music does,” Setzer said. “A Russian scholar told me about Chekhov’s ‘The Black Monk,’ and Shostakovich’s obsession with wanting to make an opera out of this story. That got me intrigued.”

After growing more obsessed with Shostakovich’s failed attempt to create the opera, Setzer contacted Glossman who proceeded to create a script interweaving the subject of Shostakovich’s obsession with its close reflection to the composer’s life.

“[Setzer’s] longstanding friendship with James Glossman has resulted in a fascinating and multi-layered exploration of Shostakovich’s obsession with Chekhov’s disturbing short story,” said Paul Watkins, Artistic Director of GLCMF and cellist of the Emerson String Quartet. “With a distinguished cast of actors and the Emerson Quartet, this unique production will include a complete performance of Shostakovich’s 14th string quartet as well as an examination of the composer’s famously tormented artistic life and his constant struggle against the Soviet state.”

From Russia to Detroit

The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival has collaborated with several local institutions for this production including Wayne State University, making this the Festival’s largest partnership to date.

“This production appeals to me on a variety of levels,” said Laura Kline, Director of Global Studies and Senior Lecturer in Russian at Wayne State University. “It’s so exciting to have a major event here connecting Russia and Detroit and featuring such a world-renowned group.”

Collaborations between the University and the Festival have included a film presentation of Chekhov’s “The Black Monk” and the 2017 Rushton Undergraduate Conference on Language, Literature and Culture, an annual conference where undergraduate students presented scholarly posters, presentations and creative works involved with the community and inspired by Shostakovich and The Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy.

Shostakovich and The Black Monk brings together something global with something local and, of course, the cultural elements of both,” said Kline. “It’s a great opportunity to see that despite Russia’s troubled history of tragedy and political oppression, they have created some of the greatest works of art, literature and music.”

The Detroit Connection

The world premiere at the Detroit Film Theatre also acts as a homecoming for Glossman, a Detroit native. He currently holds over 200 directing positions under his belt in various staged productions and serves as an instructor in the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
“When I was a kid, I used to go to the movie theaters downtown and the Art Institute and main library, listening to the Budapest String Quartet and show tunes in the listening area,” Glossman said. “As soon as I heard that the performance venue was the beautifully-restored theater inside of the Art Institute, I thought, ‘what a strange alignment.’”
Following the world premiere, Glossman will travel with the production to this year’s Tanglewood music festival in Massachusetts on July 19, Princeton University on September 28 and Stony Brook University on April 12, 2019, as part of its multi-year national tour.

“This piece is for anyone who cares about art and the vital importance of the individual in a society who wants to turn color and individuality into something gray and uniform,” said Glossman. “It is a ‘valentine’ to the power of the human spirit.”

Shostakovich and The Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy” is presented in cooperation with Wayne State University and the Detroit Institute of Arts with support from the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation. Support for activities at Wayne State University is provided by the Charles H. Gershenson Trust, Maurice S. Binkow, Trustee and the following Wayne State University programs and departments: Office of International ProgramsHonors CollegeCollege of Liberal Arts and SciencesCollege of Fine, Performing, and Communication ArtsOffice of the Vice President for Researchthe Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Global Studies Program and Humanities Center. The appearance of the Emerson String Quartet is supported by Linda and Maurice Binkow.
Ticket Information

Tickets for Shostakovich and The Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy are $20 for general admission seating, $40 for preferred seating with $10 seats available to Festival friends age 35 and younger. To purchase tickets, visit or call 248-559-2097.

About Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival
The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival was born in 1994 of a remarkable relationship between religious and cultural institutions. A secular event, the Festival is sponsored by three religious institutions (representing Catholic, Jewish and Protestant faiths) and Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, a prominent musical ensemble that is an administrative partner for the Festival. In two weeks each June, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival presents more than 20 concerts in southeastern Michigan. Many of these performances occur in the venues of the Festival’s sponsors – St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic Church, Temple Beth El and Kirk in the Hills. Additional concert locations have included the Detroit Institute of Arts, Kerrytown Concert House (Ann Arbor), Seligman Performing Arts Center, various locations in Grosse Pointe, the Capitol Theatre in Windsor (ON) and St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing. A special highlight was a performance at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The list of performers over the years reads like a long “who’s who” in chamber music, including Jeremy Denk, Andrés and Roberto Díaz, Peter Oundjian, Emerson String Quartet, Joseph Silverstein, Miriam Fried, Gilbert Kalish, Philip Setzer, Jonathan Biss, David Finckel, St. Lawrence Quartet, Peter Wiley, Miró Quartet, Wu Han, Fred Sherry, Ida and Ani Kavafian, eighth blackbird and a host of additional musicians. In 2015, Paul Watkins took over the role as Artistic Director from the Festival’s founding Artistic Director, James Tocco, who retired in 2014. The cellist of the Emerson String Quartet, Watkins is an accomplished instrumentalist, pianist and conductor. In his role as Festival artistic director, he has continued the Festival’s tradition of engaging world-class musicians and creating imaginative projects.
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