TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE
A bizarre story from Moscow,
told by HOWARD SMITH
As recently as September (2002) the great Bolshoi Hall of Moscow's 'Tchaikovsky'
Conservatory echoed to glowing sounds of a string orchestra banned by the
conservatory rector and the hall director less than ten years earlier. In
a series of three concerts collectively titled 'Gennady Rozhdestvensky and
His Pupils' attentive Muscovites heard the sixteen-member Ensemble XXI Moscow
perform all twelve of Handel's Concerto Grossi.
Each concert consisted of four concertos with a trio of former pupils
directing one concerto each and Maestro Rozhdestvensy taking the podium
for the final work. In this way, beside watching the great Rozhdestvensky
each audience could appreciate the musicianship and artistry of Ramiro Soriano,
Director of the Bolivian State Chamber orchestra and Choir; Alvaro Manzano
of Ecuador, Director of the Santo Domingo State Symphony Orchestra; and
Lygia O'Riordan, founder and director of Ensemble XXI Moscow.
From left to right: conductors Alvaro Manzano (Ecuador), Lygia O'Riordan (Ireland), Gennadij Rozhdestvensky and Ramiro Soriano (Bolivia) with Ensemble XXI Moscow, after one of the Bolshoi Zal concerts
Excitement among the audience and press was palpable and the ensemble,
plus O'Riordan, its firebrand Irish-New Zealand conductor, was magnificently
So what had happened to cause the ire of Moscow's musical functionaries
a decade earlier ? Let's turn back the clock and see.
In 1993 Ensemble XXI Moscow and Lygia were asked by the Tchaikowsky Conservatory
to do a concert which would commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of
the start of a Fund to build the same Conservatory.
A year earlier Lygia's players had presented a programme of works by
Bach, Vivaldi, and Mozart without any fuss or bother.
On this later occasion however, the programme was to be called 'Salute
to the 20th Century' and would consist largely of music created through
famous commissions by Paul Sacher, former conductor of the Basle Chamber
The Sacher commissions were Bartók's Divertimento, Stravinsky's
Basle Concerto in D (Revised 1946), and Martinu's Double Concerto
for Strings, Piano and Kettledrums, and as Lygia recalls; 'We also included
the Introductory Prayers written for Ensemble XXI Moscow by Arvo
Pärt and Hercules Dux Ferrariae by Irish composer, Sean O'Riada'.
But then, when Lygia arrived back from business in London she was met
at the airport by a pale-faced Ensemble leader, Pia Siirala, and the orchestra's
administrator. They had grim news. The concert had been cancelled by Ovchennikov,
Rector of Moscow Conservatoire, and Sacharov, Director of the Bolshoi Hall.
Copyright © 1 November 2002
Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand