This past month I traveled to Russia to perform as guest timpanist of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. We performed Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (with soloist Kristóf Baráti), and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1. To perform the music of Tchaikovsky with a Russian orchestra in the Tchaikovsky Music Conservatory was a surreal combination.
This trip was my first experience traveling to a non-English speaking country by myself. After 29 hours of travel, I was thrust into a completely different world: one notably filled with the Cyrillic alphabet. Despite my exhaustion and amateur ability to read Russian, I managed to board the correct Aeroexpress train from the SVO airport to Moscow.
Maestro Arthur Arnold and his wife met me at my train stop and drove me to the apartment of my host family. The tall skyscrapers and fast-paced traffic reminded of New York. Yet, unlike any major city in the United States, the skyline of Moscow juxtaposed modern architecture with 500-year old chapels and monuments. The rich history of the Soviet Union was apparent behind the renovated facade of the city.
Upon sharing a cup of tea with my wonderfully kind host mother, Heide, I was shown to my private apartment where I was able to finally unpack and go to sleep. My apartment, with its full kitchen and gorgeous overlook of the entire city, was located in the heart of Moscow.
With a few free days before rehearsals began, I explored as much of the city as possible. I watched the ceremonious "changing of the guard" outside the Kremlin Wall and stood at the foot of the gorgeous St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square. I saw the lifeless, embalmed body of Stalin in his mausoleum and gawked at the ornate ceilings inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. I walked through the exhibits inside the new Tretyakov Gallery and watched couples in Gorky Park skating across the city's largest ice-skating rink. Knowing only a few key Russian phrases, I was able to navigate the bus and metro system of Moscow and attend an emotionally powerful ballet performance at the Novaya Opera Theater.
Those few days of exploring and navigating Moscow were thrilling and extremely uncomfortable. As soon as I began my rehearsals with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, however, I felt at "home" again. Despite not being able to communicate to many members of the orchestra, I had such a pleasure performing familiar music alongside the musicians. This trip confirmed my firm belief that music is the ultimate universal language. I was humbled by the talent of the musicians in the orchestra and was honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with them.
Our rehearsals took place in a recording studio at Mosfilm Studios (the "Hollywood of Russia"). After our first rehearsal, I remembered what a joy it is to perform under the baton of Maestro Arthur Arnold (he was my conductor at the PRISMA festival in Canada this past summer). His command of the orchestra is inspiring.
The dress rehearsal was my first opportunity to see inside of the Grand Hall in the Tchaikovsky Music Conservatory. The stage was not particularly wide. However, the hall was extraordinarily deep. The furthest balcony was extremely far from the edge of the stage. The portraits of famous composers lined the walls of the hall, ending with the portrait of Tchaikovsky above the balcony on stage right.
Kristóf Baráti joined us for the dress rehearsal; I was immediately amazed by the pure sound he coaxed out of his gorgeous Stradivarius violin. His interpretation of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was unique and deliberate. His emphasis on the small details of the piece, despite the limited rehearsal time, was commendable. It was a pleasure to share the stage with him.
And, at last, the purpose of my trip arrived: the performance. Unlike orchestral concerts in America, they did not dim the hall lights for the performance. At 7:05pm I marched onto the stage with the other members of the orchestra and allowed my eyes to scan the audience. Every seat in the auditorium was filled. I looked up at the portrait of Tchaikovsky one final time before Arthur gave the downbeat for Romeo and Juliet.
The performance was a huge success. Arthur gave me a solo bow at the conclusion of the concert and I shook hands with many members of the orchestra as we said our final goodbyes. After a wonderful dinner with Arthur, Kim, Heide, and Marina, I headed back to my apartment and packed for my long trip back to Tucson.
My performance with the Moscow Symphony exceeded every one of my expectations and I cannot wait to return to Russia someday soon to perform with the group again. I owe a lot to the PRISMA festival for providing me with this special opportunity.
Check out the University of Arizona Journalism Department's promotional video about my trip here: https://www.facebook.com/175238791965/videos/10154235646431966/