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Lygia headed straight to the Conservatoire and despite protests from his secretaries marched straight into Ovchennikov's room. 'I demanded to know if this news was true and Ovchennikov confirmed the ban. "The orchestra and the music are not considered appropriate for this occasion", he added.'

'Then why did you ask us to play in the first place', Lygia snapped. Her question was ignored. 'You are not a Russian orchestra', she was told. 'We most certainly are a Russian orchestra', the conductor countered. 'You are not, you have foreigners amongst you', Ovchennikov insisted.

Lygia was not about to be browbeaten. 'Who will say that the New York Philharmonic is not an American orchestra because there are Russians and Japanese playing there?', she seethed. 'Who will say that the Berlin Philharmonic is not a German orchestra because its chief conductor is an Italian?'

'You are not playing Russian music', Ovchennikov claimed. Lygia, triumphantly -- 'We are playing Stravinsky'. 'Stravinsky is not a Russian composer', Ovchennikov finished lamely. Lygia could hardly believe her ears. 'This was from the Rector of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory', she recalls.

Ensemble XXI Moscow was still a very young orchestra and there had already been a great deal of publicity about the concert. 'Had it been cancelled then it could have been seen as a reflection on the quality of the orchestra's playing', says Lygia. 'I said to the Rector: "Either you give me back my concert in writing by tomorrow at 10.00am or I will call a press conference at the statue of Tchaikovsky (located under the Rector's window) and I will begin a hunger strike". He sneered and said: "Do what you want".'

By 10.00am the following morning Lygia had heard nothing. So the feisty conductor did exactly as she'd said. Reaction in Moscow was huge and newspapers, TV and Radio all turned out to cover the event. It was a symbolic fifty hour hunger strike and entirely unprecedented as an artistic statement on Moscow's streets.

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


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