RossiaTHOSE MAD MUSICIANS by Vera Kolosova
Published by Rossia, the Russian newspaper, circulation throughout the CIS. Considered to be one of Russia’s most serious papers. This article appeared in the Spring of 1992.

At the end of our conversation I didn’t ask "where is your home" because the answer was obvious. The daughter of an Irish Diplomat, she has traveled to many countries because of her father’s career. She does not believe in borders between countries but rather in an independence of spirit. No, she does not stress this. She simply lives like this. For her this is the only way to exist. Confident that the 21st century will bring a time when musicians will be able to play together without barriers, she named her orchestra ENSEMBLE XXI. She is a person of the future. I for one hope that such people are responsible for the future.

Still a lot of people consider Lygia O’Riordan’s ideas to be quite mad. A conductor who could have worked in the West, a musician with a European cultural background has come to Moscow to found an international chamber orchestra. "As a child my teachers were Hungarian and that is why I wanted to study in Budapest at the Liszt Academy". Lygia recalls. My parents were very worried about my going to Eastern Europe because in 1981 it was an unusual choice. However on my fifth day in Budapest, my teacher told me that if a musician wants to perfect his technique he should study in Russia". She continued: "The Russian string tradition is the greatest in the world and when I was studying with Gennady Rozsdestvensky in Moscow I had already decided that I wanted to found an international chamber orchestra in Moscow. In 1987 when I finished my studies it was impossible. There was too much bureaucracy. In 1989 after I had been working in Finland and Australia I returned to Moscow".

Now she has been working three years with the orchestra. Musicians have come to work for her from Finland, Germany and England. In the orchestra there are musicians from Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russia Armenia, Vietnam and Cuba. At the beginning the orchestra’s membership changed. For those that thought the orchestra was a place where one earned hard currency quickly and enjoyed touring abroad, there was no place in the orchestra ranks. In O’Riordan’s orchestra the work is not easy. There are long rehearsal hours. She refuses to perform too often and will not allow the orchestra to become a commercial venture. In other words you have to be rather mad to suffer for your art. Lygia puts it another way however: "One must be an idealist". In our day when we worship the super pragmatic, such people are hard to find. "It’s easy for them to be idealistic. They have everything anyway". I can hear the skeptics. Yes our country has always had great respect for foreigners. More respect than it has had for its own people at times. Yes, Lygia O’Riordan does differ from our countrymen and women. She has a choice. At any moment she can leave Russia and go wherever she wishes. To places where everything is already organised and where one can be whatever one wishes. Even an idealist/ Yet, this is precisely the point. Lygia chose to come here. To be subjects to our laws. With us and like us. "I cannot explain this to my father. I know that down there in your bag you are carrying another plastic bag. Just in case you spot something in the shops. I also have a plastic bag with me. My life has to revolve around the shops".

O’Riordan reacts emotionally to our day to day life. She rants a room in rubles although everybody possible tries to extract hardrcurrency from her. Touring in Russia has become impossible because tickets for travel must be paid in hardcurrency although it is a Moscow orchestra.

Still, people were found who wanted to support this mad idea. The Russian Progress Bank is the orchestra’s sponsor in Russia. Rank Xerox prints all the orchestra’s programmers and the monthly ENSEMBLETIMES, THEIR JOURNAL FOR THE "Friends of the orchestra". One finds a truly unique atmosphere at the receptions organized by Foreign representatives in Moscow after the orchestra concerts. The Patron of the orchestra is the Netherlands Ambassador. A sponsor for the orchestra’s foreign tours is a Dutch bank (there have been successful tours to Sweden, Finland and Germany). Eventually the bureaucracy stopped demanding hardcurrency to rent the Moscow concert halls and began to believe in the orchestra. The orchestra first concert in he Bolshoi Saal will be on May 16th 1992.

They have, however, played in many smaller chamber music halls in Moscow, creating their own special chamber music atmosphere.

As foreigners in Moscow it is even more difficult for them than it is for us. We have our own homes and a genetic understanding of what is going on around us. They have none of these advantages. Their salaries are in rubles. And even if they had currency. They would be ashamed of using it in front of colleagues who have none.

Sometimes they find themselves in amazing situations… The apartment which O’Riordan shares with concertmaster Pia Siirala is in an old house in Ostozhenka Street. There is a quite courtyard with pleasant neighbors. Until the Cooperative arrived bringing with it the cars that scared away all the children who had played there watched by their grandmothers. Loud rock from their stereos made it impossible to practice and at times sleep. The cooperative had no intention of being considerate of anyone. Lygia tried to speak to the director, asking him to turn down the noise. The next day she was brutally beaten up in the courtyard by the drivers of these "New Rulers". It was a miracle that she didn’t end up an invalid. She was attacked with police truncheons and had her spine severely beaten, causing terrible damage. Now, thank God, she is out of hospital and will even conduct a concert. The cooperative is still flourishing and the police refuse to do anything. Lygia and Pia have left the apartment and are afraid to appear in the house in Ostozhenka St. And there you have the whole story. And yet, Lygia O’Riordan is determined to live in this country until the next century. A private business disliked by many Russians as their dealings are often mafia based. They have flourished in their years following perestroika and glasnost and are regularly the scenes of crime.
Translated by Rene Newton