Jonathan Schofield on Russian composers and politicians turned curators

THIS should be a cracker for classical fans but also fans of politics and history.

There's going to be great music plus a talk from man who's left Stoke-on-Trent for the Victoria and Albert Museum. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich and Tristram Hunt are coming together in Manchester's most atmospheric building, Chetham's School of Music and Library - dating from 1421. 

Of course Shostakovich (1906-1975) will only be present through his powerful and dynamic music but there is a bond between the two men.

Shostakovich was deeply affected by Soviet communism, which sprang into violent life in October 1917 underpinned by the work and priniciples of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. As the centenary of Red October comes closer, Chetham’s are presenting all fifteen Shostakovich String Quartets, performed by Chetham’s School of Music students, UK conservatoire and leading international quartets.

Hunt meanwhile, who recently announced he was relinquishing the role of MP for Stoke to become the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is a historian who has written a biography of Friedrich Engels titled the Frock Coated Communist. Much of the book concerns Manchester because Engels, the main author of the Communist Manifesto, lived for almost 22 years, on and off, in the city.

During that time Engels studied at Chetham's Library, on at least one occasion in the 1840s, with Karl Marx. It was Engel's experiences and his writing, particularly, his book The Condition of the English Working Classes, that did so much to inform the inseparable pairs' development of their theory of communism which in turn inspired Vladimir Lenin and others and ultimately led to the formation of the Soviet Union. This in turn informed Shostakovich's work.

On Wednesday 25 January there will be a special introduction to the Shostakovich series led by Hunt. Before the talk, visitors will be able to visit the Reading Room where Marx and Engels met, accompanied by the Chief Librarian, Michael Powell, and view the books they used in their studies. They will then move to Chetham’s new School Building to hear Shostakovich’s Quartets 1 & 4, performed by two of the school’s superb young string ensembles.

Tickets are £6, £5 concessions, available from here

SHOSTAKOVICH: The Complete String Quartets. Series launch event with special guest speaker Tristram Hunt MP. Wednesday  25 January, 7pm