Reviewed Elsewhere: Kiril Tomoff, Virtuosi Abroad: Soviet Music and Imperial Competition during the Early Cold War, 1945–1958.

Lars Fischer's picture
Kiril Tomoff. Virtuosi Abroad: Soviet Music and Imperial Competition during the Early Cold War, 1945–1958. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015. xiv + 262 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-5312-0.
 
 
In Virtuosi Abroad, Kiril Tomoff takes a fresh look at an old staple of the Cold War—the cultural competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Although the jockeying for position between the two states has been explored from a variety of perspectives, Tomoff places Cold War cultural diplomacy in the context of the emergence of global social, economic, and cultural systems. As a result, Virtuosi Abroad not only speaks thoughtfully to the cultural history of Russia and the Soviet Union but also contributes importantly to our understanding of globalization as a cultural and economic phenomenon.
 
Through a set of three linked case studies, Tomoff argues persuasively for his primary claim, that “striking Soviet successes in specific engagements consistently masked the gradual, long-term integration of the Soviet Union into the U.S.-dominated global system” (15). ...
 
Virtuosi Abroad suffers, as most case studies do, from a degree of repetition. Although the case studies presented are well structured, based on sound research, and thoughtfully argued, they nevertheless all speak so clearly to the author’s central argument that the reader is likely to be convinced, or not, by midway through the book. In the end, Tomoff is highly successful in demonstrating that Soviet triumphs in cultural diplomacy required an integration into Western-dominated economic and cultural systems. His broader claim that this cultural and economic integration ultimately contributed to the loss of Soviet cultural and political power and then, ultimately, to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the integration of its successor states into “a U.S.-dominated world order” (3) is also well argued, if less well supported by the evidence presented in this book. Most provocatively, Virtuosi Abroad attempts to bring the cultural history of the Soviet Union into a reexamination of the emergence of globalization. ... Ironically, the struggle for dominance “drove the spread of globalizing cultural technologies and media,” which led not only to the standardization of orchestral sound, repertoire, and performance standards but also to the “universalization of cultural values” (178) and the emergence of a globalized but US-dominated commercial mass culture.