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TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE

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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
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 vindicated.

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 Orchestra.

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.

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Copyright © 1 November 2002 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand

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