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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 16, 2004

Art Under Oppression Is Topic Of UI Panel Discussion

"Artists Creating in Oppressive Circumstances" is the topic of a free panel discussion featuring the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 23 in Harper Hall of the University of Iowa Voxman Music Building. The panel will be moderated by Burns Weston, Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and director of the UI Center for Human Rights.

The panel was organized in conjunction with the trio's 8 p.m., Feb. 24 concert in Clapp Recital Hall, sponsored by Hancher Auditorium. One of the works on that concert is the Trio No. 2 in E minor by Dmitri Shostakovich, who felt constrained to disguise the work's true motivation and intent because of the circumstances of war and politics in which he lived. The work was just an extreme example of his career of uneasy and fragile co-existence with Soviet realities.

Shostakovich's wrote his second trio in 1944, in the depths of war, and the work has been described as "a grim masterpiece."

The composer used Jewish folkdance tunes to make the trio a memorial to victims of the Nazi Holocaust who were reportedly forced by the SS to dance beside their own graves. But the Soviet state's rampant anti-Semitism made an overt memorial dangerous, if not impossible. So Shostakovich justified the trio's atmosphere of horror and grief by formally dedicating the piece to a non-Jewish friend who had died of heart failure.

"Some of the most important artistic, literary and musical works of the last century were created under the most oppressive conditions," Christopher Merrill commented. "Fortunately, in the most difficult times some brave souls rise to the occasion and testify to what it means to be human. What good luck for the survivors to have their witness."

During more than 35 years of existence, the UI International Writing Program that Merrill leads has often served as a haven for writers who have experienced oppression in their home countries. His experience is also first-hand: He reported on Sarajevo under siege in his acclaimed book, "Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars."

In addition to his poetry, journalism, essays and translations, Merrill is world-literature commentator for the syndicated public radio program, "The World," a co-production of the BBC and WGBH radio in Boston.

The International Writing Program is a unique cultural institution that each fall assembles a community of international writers on the UI campus.

Burns Weston commented, "The UI Center for Human Rights (UICHR) is pleased to co-sponsor this magnificent event because we believe strongly that human rights cannot be truly advanced without exploring the affective and intuitive as well as the cognitive depths of our individual and collective being."

The UI Center for Human Rights was founded in 1999 as a direct outgrowth of "Global Focus: Human Rights '98," a yearlong UI commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Initiated by a multidisciplinary group of faculty, it has as its mission to assist in the promotion and protection of human rights at home and abroad by providing distinguished multidisciplinary leadership in human rights research, education, and public service to the UI, its surrounding community, the State of Iowa and beyond.

Tickets to the Feb. 24 Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson concert, supported by the Iowa House Hotel and the Wendell F. Miller Fund through the University of Iowa Foundation, are available from the Hancher box office.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to 319-353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website:

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail:

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail,

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,