Daniel Abraham, conductor & director
It is now Thursday AM in Russia. We flew into Perm Tuesday morning. It was an early departure from Moscow and a delayed flight, but the group made the best of it. So far we have performed four a cappella programs. The first concert was part of a festival in Moscow at the main Lutheran Cathedral–a beautiful mid-19th century space with (as David D already mentioned) superb acoustics. The second program occurred the same evening at Russian Academy of Art (both Saturday, May 18). The first program was received with inspiring warmth–the crowd loved the Russian works we prepared and were clearly taken by the spirituals and other American pieces. The second program, in an amazing glass pyramid sculpture garden, was a bit odd as the loud air conditioning handler disrupted all of the quiet singing and the crowd, who had been there since 6 PM (we performed at 9:15), were pretty done! But, as they are Russians, they persevered and were generally appreciative!
Our third performance was with the Governor’s Orchestra in Vladimir. They are a very professional orchestra, run by the strong fist of a very forthright music director. While I will refrain from providing the details here, I will say that the experience is one that will not soon be forgotten. The musical results were strong and the audience clearly loved the program, but tensions and palatable xenophobia underpinned the whole of the experience (which was an experience in itself). In the end, the instrumental musicians were won over by us; the musical director got very drunk and obnoxious throughout the evening, and the audience was none the wiser regarding all of the chaos and drama that underlay the entire evening. My only major regret was our need to board our bus almost immediately following the program and return to Moscow (a 3 hour drive that took 5.5 because of traffic!) as it would have been an honor to socialize with the musicians and to grain some better understand as to their conditions and way of life. Even the limited exchanges many of us had with them still taught us a lot.
With our arrival in Perm on Tuesday we all felt some needed relief–this small city is charming, warm, welcoming, and highly tolerant. Our first evening consisted of an endearing exchange with the Pedagogical University Choir. They were described by others as a professional choir—in this case a group of student and recent graduates who were working in music. Their director—Olga Lifanova—was a lovely host, welcomed us so beautifully, was warm and even quite humorous. They even blessed us and the rest of our trip in song. They were musically very fine and each of the two groups sang works for one another in a space that was once the largest Cathedral in Perm (now a state art museum). The hall we sang in what basically the upper section of what was once the Cathedral’s chancel. Great acoustics and both groups sang very very well (including a beautiful Deep River from the Russian choir that brought several of us (myself included) to tears).
On Wednesday we met with the Choir of the Perm State University for rehearsal on the Vivaldi and a brief sound check in the University Concert Hall for the evening’s concert. The program that evening consisted of their choir singing about a 20 minutes set followed by us for a 30 minute program that was so nicely received that we did a handful of additional pieces. The hit of the evening was a Russian piece (considered by some to be the second national anthem), Grust’ prostorov [Sadness of your vast expanses]—it was the first (of many pieces) to receive the rhythmically coordinated clap that shows great appreciation. The rest of the program, from there and beyond, received boisterous applause. The host choir and their director, Pyotr Yurkov, threw us a serious private reception completely with all kinds of homemade foods, treats. songs, games, and (of course) vodka. During part of our time together Pyotr and I had a chance to slip away chat (with the help of Lana our courier and translator) about the current arts of Russia, the issues of living in a new democratic society, and what the future holds for the arts. We spoke about choral music, composers, our singers, the life as an artist, the world of academia, the growing interests of arts managers in international arts and how they might be some of the right people to create the dialog necessary to find the right ways to sustain our art, and so much more. The exchange was a deep interchange of common understanding for both of us—the issues we both face as artists (different but at times similar), and how this kind of dialog was so necessary for the future of what we do was the clear message for both of us. I hope that we will stay in touch as there was something very meaningful about this exchange despite the very limited time we spent together.
This evening we gave our final program in Perm—the University Choir sang two works for the opening portion of the program, including the very challenging Rejoice in the Lamb by Britten. For our 30 minute set, we had originally planned to sing most of our “sustained style” works, but the Perm Organ Hall was much dryer than at the sound check. The 412-seat space, which had been empty when we rehearsed, was completely filled—much dryer!!! So, after the first piece or two I changed it up, removed some of the more sustained items, moved more quickly onto the spirituals, etc. The crowed loved every moment of it; this was one of the most engaged and energized audiences (at equal with the audience at the very first concert in Moscow). What a joy. Although a few singers were clearly tired and at least one had to sit out the program for the sake of his voice, we sang very well. They asked for encore after encore, but I had to stop them as the combined Vivaldi Gloria was the second half!!
Several were too tired vocally to do the second half, but it was not a worry given the nature of the combined choirs and this half was also very well performed; it was clearly elevated from the rehearsal the day before and the brief sound check earlier that evening. The orchestra also played very well, and Dana Scott, our accompanist extraordinaire, played the lovely and impressive small organ that is the focus and namesake of the hall itself. (She also picked up and helped the orchestra make a couple of significant readjustments after two individual mistakes.) The crowd was ecstatic and we sang “Moscow Nights” and “Bonse Aba” as encores combined with the other choir. After some lovely curtain speeches and many sincere thanks, we finally left the stage to applause that continued until every member of the combined ensembles (and myself) had exited. What a joyous and heartfelt evening! Pure delight, love, and friendship filled every person’s soul in that building this evening. It will not soon be forgotten.
More to come as the half way point of the tour has just been reached. Tomorrow morning (very early) we travel to Yekaterinburg.