Scenic creation



andré markowicz


For a long time, without knowing each other, we'd been following each other.

We met in 2010, at the Cité de la Musique, thanks to France Culture, around the poems of Ossip Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova, and we said to ourselves that it would be good to work together again, to evoke the Requiem by Anna Akhmatova, a series of poems written and immediately memorized, so that no manuscripts would exist, about the Stalinist terror. An absolute summit of Russian poetry.

I’ll be performing Benjamin Britten’s3rd Suite for Solo Cello Op.87; André will speak the Russian text, and translate it on the fly.

Britten’s choice may seem strange at first. But not that much. This suite is inspired by Russian themes. Folk songs, Orthodox hymns…

Her writing, by turns husky, tender, lyrical and polyphonic, and her deep, serious songs, echo the powerful, dramatic Requiem by the Russian poetess.

It’s a question for us, as much as we can, of sharing the terrible beauty of this language, its demands and its simplicity; of making heard, in one way or another, the resistance of an entire people – for that’s what it’s all about.”


Anna Akhmatova, Requiem
Benjamin Britten, 3rd suite for solo cello Op.87

BY André Markowicz

About the requiem

“For years and years, from place to place, I’ve been proposing to do another kind of translation, which is a translation without text. The idea is for me to come and say a few poems. Just say them, in Russian. First, so that listeners can hear the language. And that’s a lot.
Then I improvise a translation, and when I say improvise, I mean that there is no written translation, and there never will be.

There is only an oral translation. A translation which is not a translation in the sense that a true translation is supposed to replace a text with a text, but which is a narrative, again, improvised, on the meaning, on the meaning of each word, then on the rhythm, the meter, the sonorities, on the connotations, the quotations that I, as a Russian reader, find there. At the end of the day, the idea is to give the audience the idea that this text exists, and to let them leave not with words, but with a halo, an aura – this has been said, this has existed… and, perhaps, in the end, to give the French audience the impression, after an hour, that they understand Russian, that they no longer need a translation.

When I met Sonia Wieder-Atherton, during an evening at the Cité de la Musique on Russian poetry, I met someone who carried within her the passion I feel, and who instinctively understood what I’ve just said about memory.
We looked at how we could work together – and came up with the idea of an evening based around Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem.
What is the Requiem? Twelve poems, and a prose preface, written between 1935 and 1938, when her son was arrested along with hundreds of thousands of other people.
None of these poems were written down: they were composed by heart, and entrusted to the memory of seven friends. Each of them, until 1962 (when Anna Akhmatova finally agreed to have the text typed and recorded), without knowing who else knew them, came regularly, and repeated them to her, to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. But these are not personal poems: each poem is written in a different voice, in a different meter, with a specific intonation, and poem after poem is, musically, a veritable oratorio. It really is the voice of Russia.

There are translations, of course… but, well.
So we came up with the idea of offering an evening in which these poems by Requiem Sonia would respond, with her music, and it was she who suggested the Third Cello Suite by Benjamin Britten, one of Akhmatova’s closest friends, along with Shostakovich.
As I write, I have absolutely no idea what we’re going to do in practical terms. Even if it’s on February 2, at the Théâtre du Nord… I just know we’re going to do it. That we want to do it – to make people hear, feel, not just the words, but the halo around, and the presence…

Allow me to make a personal note here. I’ve only seen my great-aunt cry once in my life, and that was when she discovered this text. I was twelve-thirteen, so I didn’t really understand. She’d lived through prison queues, deportations and all the rest. And in her youth (she was born in 1890), Anna Akhmatova was her idol. She was going to listen to her as soon as she knew she was giving a reading. She knew many of his early poems by heart. But she’d never read Requiem, of course.
I can see her again, reading and rereading the text at Editions de Minuit, leaning over it, and raising her face, reddened with tears, and saying to me: Это ведь все правда… (It’s true, all that’s there).”

André Markowicz

“to make the resistance of an entire people heard, in one way or another – because that’s what it’s all about”.

credits & thanks


Sonia Wieder-Atherton


André Markowicz


Image from the film D’Est, by Chantal Akerman


Premiered February 2, 2015 at Théâtre du Nord, Lille

New release

BACH: Cello Suites Nos. 3 & 4

“It’s a question of digging into the string until the phrase is born, along with its right breath. A sentence in perpetual becoming. It never stops being made and remade. I waited a long time to record them. And then one day, or rather one night, I began.”