This past summer, singer-songwriter and pianist Regina Spektor traveled back to her birthplace of Moscow for the first time since she left 23 years ago.
“I was there really to be there with my mom and my husband and to see where we’re from and to visit childhood,” said Spektor, 32, in a recent phone interview. “It was almost like a pilgrimage, and we visited special places of our lives.”
Spektor’s arrival in her home country occurred at the same time Russia’s justice system was coming under close scrutiny for the jailing of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot.
Three members of the band were charged with “hooliganism” this past spring after staging an illegal performance at a Moscow church. In August, they were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment, sparking outcries from around the globe. An appeals hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday.
The plight of the band and the ensuing controversy became all the more acute to Spektor while she was visiting her homeland.
“I think it’s really sad and I think that, unfortunately, it’s really not surprising. It’s really hard to be part of any kind of opposition in Russia. They really like to make examples of people,” she said. “Freedom has a way of spreading, and people get inspired, and when they see somebody succeed in some way they just try to kill it at the root, and it’s very sad.
“You always want to think that things are progressing, and then instead of progress you get kind of shocked back into ‘Oh no, this is what it’s like, and this is what it’s always been.’ “
But Spektor also sees things through another lens.
“I think that people are still inspired over there. I felt it,” she said. “We talked to people about how they felt, and we tried to gauge things. There is a lot of hope, especially with young people. They really want to have freedom and connection to the arts outside of Russia.”
Spektor returns to Portland with a Monday-night show at the State Theatre. The last time she was here was in 2005 in support of her 2004 “Soviet Kitsch” album — first as the opening act for The Dresden Dolls at Space Gallery, then a few months later at Bull Moose Music in Scarborough, where she recorded a live EP.
She has gained substantial momentum since then with the 2006 release of “Begin to Hope,” “Far” in 2009 and “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats,” which came out in May. The latter entered the Billboard charts at No. 3, and Spektor’s Facebook page is closing in on a million and a half fans.
Spektor has been a New Yorker since immigrating to the U.S. with her family. Piano lessons started when she was 6, but were in jeopardy when her family couldn’t afford a piano once in New York. So she found one in a local synagogue.
Soon after, fate intervened. Spektor’s father, Ilya, a photographer and violinist, had a chance encounter with another violinist, Samuel Marder. Marder is married to Sonia Vargas, who’s on the faculty at the Manhattan School of Music. Free piano lessons, which lasted for years, ensued.
Spektor said she’s still close with the couple, and they attend all her shows in New York. “They’re a big part of my family.”
October marks the launch of a three-month tour for Spektor, which includes the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. Leading up to it, she’s’s been keeping plenty busy.
“I’ve been in the celebrating of Jewish holidays world with my family, so that’s been great, and seeing friends and just trying to catch up,” she said.
She also spent some time in Los Angeles and recently attended the MTV Video Music Awards, where her video for “All the Rowboats” was a nominee for Best Art Direction. (The award went to Katy Perry’s video for “Wide Awake.”)
“It was kind of a cool but strange experience,” she said. “I’ve never done any kind of a red carpet thing, so it definitely was interesting.”
Staff Writer Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455 or at: