Australian Tour of Ensemble XXI Moscow, October 1997
XXI Moscow set off for its first tour outside of Europe in late
August. The orchestra had just finished a busy schedule of
concerts in Moscow with its first “Symphonies
in Moscow Courtyards” Festival.
rehearsal over, everyone had lunch, packed all the music and
checked that all the instruments were securely in their cases.
Then the mini buses, sent by one of the orchestra’s sponsors,
were loaded with people, bags and instruments. A final photo call
with many of the parents who all congregated to wave off the
orchestra and it was off to Sheremetyevo International airport.
once passport control was fairly smooth. Customs officers, as
usual, demanded the obligatory passports for the instruments. In
Russia, the old Soviet rule remains. The Russian musicians’
instruments (and the bows in the case of string instruments)
require passports with front on and profile photos. Getting these
passports as well as their photos requires wrestling with
bureaucrats at the Ministry of Culture for months before a tour.
on board the comfortable Vietnam airlines plane, pampered by the
polite crew, it was hard to believe we were still only on the
tarmac at a Moscow airport. As we took off the excitement mounted.
Our Vietnamese musicians were relaxed and happy as they headed for
home. Our leader of second violins, had not been home for years.
Many Vietnamese musicians come to study in Russia, the links still
remaining from the old socialist days. As a result, Vietnam has
one of the strongest string traditions in the world.
Captain of the plane turned out to be an Australian. When he heard
that he had Ensemble XXI Moscow on board on its way to the Sydney
Opera House, he invited everyone up (not together!) to the
cockpit. This was greatly appreciated. A sighting of Mount Ararat
was breathtaking as it rose out of the clouds. Only Noah's Ark was
missing. In Four and a half hours we were in Dubai for a quick
stop over. Then it was 6 more hours through the night to Saigon.
Arrival in the early morning in Saigon is always exciting. The
airport is not far from the centre of the city. As one looks out
of the plane windows, there are thousands of bikes and mopeds
whizzing by, although it is only 5 in the morning. The warm
weather immediately hit us as we disembarked. Passports were
handed over as we were allowed to go into the city to spend the
day in transit. Our flight to Sydney was in the evening. A Vietnam
airlines guide showed the orchestra around Saigon. Temples and
other places of interest were visited before an excellent lunch in
a restaurant. Then it was off to one of our Vietnamese member’s
home. Extraordinarily and with typical Vietnamese hospitality they
had kindly put their house at the disposal of the orchestra so
that everyone could have a sleep. That was everyone except the
Vietnamese musician who stayed up and chatted with all the family
in the kitchen. In the middle of the afternoon a spectacular
monsoon occurred creating
a dramatic atmosphere and beautiful perfumes from the trees around
showers it was off again to the airport and soon everyone was on
board the flight to Sydney. Once again the captain was an
Australian and there were more visits to the cockpit.
Concertmaster Pia sat up in the cockpit for the touchdown in
Melbourne. We arrived in Sydney a couple of hours later on a
beautiful sunny Sunday morning. The bus driver took us straight to
The Rocks (the oldest part of Sydney) and under the harbour bridge
for the first stunning view of the Sydney Opera House. Everyone
clambered out for the photo session and then it was off to the
in at the Regent Hotel, a major sponsor of our tour, was brief and
efficiently organised by the staff. The rooms, with their
breathtaking views of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House are
wonderfully comfortable. Brunch was followed by a walk to the
Opera House and then a long sleep. The next day was free as
everyone practiced individually and got over their jet lag.
Tuesday rehearsals commenced in the Regent Hotel where a large
room was kindly put aside for us to use as rehearsal space.
the evening we played for the “Opera Australia” Awards in the
Regent Hotel. Our soloist, Coloratura Soprano Ludmilla Shilova
sang Handel’s “Cleopatra’s aria” as well as a Boïeldieu's
"Bolero". Ensemble XXI Moscow played a concerto of
Vivaldi. The performance was very well received and it was an
honour to share the evening with the young soloists of the
Australian Opera. The orchestra was wined and dined by the Chefs
of the hotel. A command performance took place in honour of the
Chefs in the Regent Hotel’s kitchen with a lively rendition of
Wednesday and the rehearsals became intense as everyone prepared
for Ensemble XXI Moscow’s Australian debut the following night
at the Sydney Opera House . An early night was had by all before
the big day. On Thursday the orchestra arrived at the Opera House
for rehearsal. It was wonderful to finally be on the stage and to
experience the acoustics.
night everyone waited expectantly for the stage manager to give
the signal for the beginning of our performance. Many of the great
Halls could learn a lesson from the staff of the Opera House. The
efficiency as well as the high quality of professionalism and
courtesy were outstanding. The concert opened with Vivaldi’s
concerto in g before continuing with the Handel
"Cleopatra's" aria sung by Shilova. Shilova had been
chosen by Richard Bonynge for our recording of Haydn's Orpheo and
Euridice and had been greatly encouraged by Dame Joan Sutherland
on her visit to Russia for the performances. For Shilova this was
also a thrilling moment to sing on a stage where so many of Dame
Joan Sutherland's historic performances took place. This was
followed by Stravinsky’s Basle Concerto Shilova then sang
the Boiëldieu Bolero before the first half ended with
Verdi’s String Quartet.
audience was very warm and responded well to the programme.
Backstage staff remarked that the audience did not cough as much
as usual and that there were a lot of young people. This wonderful
atmosphere continued during the second half of the concert when
Shilova sang Elektra’s final aria from
Mozart’s “Idomeneo” and Euridice’s “Death aria”
from Haydn’s “Orpheo and Euridice”. The concert ended with
Poulenc’s Organ Concerto.
Soloist Tapio Tiitu from Finland was the soloist. The organ, a
difficult, if impressive, instrument was tamed by the Finn and the
end brought a roar of approval from the audience. The orchestra
relaxed finally and played encores such as Shedrin’s Balalaika.
It had been a successful debut and there was Champagne all around
in the crush bar back stage for the orchestra, friends and family
members of Conductor Lygia O’Riordan who had flown in for the
following day Pia and the Ensemble headed off to see the Taronga
Zoo and the Aquarium. Awed faces at the first shark sighting soon
turned to delight at the sight of the koalas at the Zoo.
next concert was in Canberra and took place at the National
University before the orchestra continued on to Cooma. This
concert was in memory of the victims of the Landslide disaster at
Thredboe in the snowy mountains. There the orchestra was very
touched by the hospitality
and by the way in which the whole town made this event possible.
An atmospheric and picturesque town, the stay was all the more
pleasant by being resident
at the 19th Century "Royal Cooma Hotel". Stafford Harris
“Staf” the Manager was the ultimate host. With wine tasting,
vases for flowers, the retelling of local history, “Staf” was
the perfect gentleman. One of the cellists hit the jackpot in the
bar with a poker machine. “Gee whizz mate, the Russians
ARE here!” cried a local. The whole orchestra was sad to say
goodbye the next day. On the final day a school concert was held.
The students were able to try their hand at conducting and it was
good to see that even the local snow boarding champion tried his
the afternoon Terry Davies and a colleague from the Merimbula 2000
committee turned up to drive us to our next destination. This was
the most wonderful experience. We climbed up Brown Mountain until
we reached the stunning viewing spot, named after the man who used
to make the first bus run on old dusty tracks between Cooma and
one was prepared for what awaited Ensemble XXI Moscow in Merimbula
itself. We were met
at the ocean’s edge by Gary and Narelle Hetherington.
They are the owners of one of the world’s most beautiful beach
spots. “The Hub“ on Pambula beach,
a collection of wonderful cabins and houses on the edge of the sea
with 40 kilometres of beach stretching out before one’s eyes. It
was love at first sight. Dozens of kangaroos was grazing outside
the cabin doors. The orchestra could hardly believe that this was
where it was going to be in residence for over a week. Gary and
Narelle Hetherington proved to be thoughtful hosts. Everything had
been thought of including a party on one of the nights off with a
typical Australian barbecue and great selection of Australian
wine. Particularly touching, however, was the way in which Gary
had done his research on the orchestra, visited this web site and
worried about the economic problems in Russia. He and Narelle said
that their contribution to the orchestra was to sponsor Ensemble
XXI Moscow's stay in Merimbula. This was worth its weight in gold.
wonderful picnic took place one day overlooking the ocean, a visit
to an aboriginal settlement another day with more freshly caught
abalone than one could eat in a lifetime! Then came visits to a
winery, a farm and the famous Bega Dairy. Finally the evening of
our Merimbula concert came. The audience put most audiences to
shame. They came in great style sporting black tie and were
entertained to a Champagne reception at the beginning of the
programme was not an easy one with Stravinsky and Prokofiev
being played. The audience's reaction proved yet again that
it is false to expect that people out of the cities want to hear
only Vivaldi’s 4 seasons and Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik".
This has been Ensemble XXI Moscow’s experience throughout
Western Europe and Russia. The audiences outside the cities are
always more adventurous.
audience responded with enthusiasm and warmth to the concert. It
was a wonderful evening. After the performance there was supper
with Champagne for the orchestra. The next concert took place in
Bega, This was also a memorable evening with another appreciative
audience. Then it was an engagement for the NSW Main Streets and
Small Towns Conference. This was a particularly
special occasion as it was an important night for Merimbula.
Merimbula had fought hard to host this conference. Next day
Merimbula was given its due when the papers heralded its efforts
with the headline “Merimbula wows NSW”. Well Merimbula
certainly wowed Ensemble XXI Moscow. Merimbula will always hold a
special place in Ensemble XXI Moscow's hearts.
goodbye to Terry Davies who drove through the night to Sydney
airport with the orchestra was terribly hard. It was a solemn
Ensemble XXI Moscow, which went through the passport control on
the homeward journey. It was only made bearable by the thought
that we would be back again before long.