PipeChat Digest #5309 - Monday, May 2, 2005
Concert tour of Belarus (Very long!)
  by "Stephen Roberts" <sroberts01@snet.net>
Re: Washington DC trip
  by <Justinhartz@aol.com>

(back) Subject: Concert tour of Belarus (Very long!) From: "Stephen Roberts" <sroberts01@snet.net> Date: Sun, 1 May 2005 19:08:59 -0700 (PDT)   On Monday, April 18 I arrived in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. For those = of your whose familiarity with post-Cold War Eastern European geography is = a bit fuzzy, Belarus is one of the countries carved out of the former = Soviet Union; it is bordered by Russia on the east, Ukraine on the south, = Poland on the west, and the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania. = Some months ago I had received an invitation from the Belarus State = Philharmonic Society to play a recital as part of the "Minsk Spring" = International Festival of Music. I later received an invitation to play at = St. Sophiya's Cathedral in Polotsk, and to give some master classes. In = all I played three recitals and gave two master classes over the course of = six days. Minsk, the capital, was virtually destroyed during World War II. In the = 19th. and early 20th. centuries it had a very large Jewish population; = sadly that flourishing Jewish population was reduced to a very small = number at the hands of the Nazis. Those of you who remember your history = will probably recall that Stalin ordered the Soviet Army to adopt a policy = of "scorched earth" to slow the advance of the German army. Alas, the = burden of this draconian policy fell heavily on the people of Belarus; the = country lost 20% of its total population during the war, and over 95% of = its Jewish citizens. Minsk today is largely a result of Stalinist urban = planning, and it was intended to be a model Soviet city. Its wide = boulevards and monumental neoclassic architecture are impressive, if a bit = heavy handed. In the past several years the city has begun to spruce up = and add new street lighting; construction is everywhere, and things seem = to be on the upswing. Still, the country has been described as "the last dictatorship in Europe"; Alexander Lukashenko, the = country's Soviet style leader, rules Belarus with an iron fist. For a = visitor like me, however, this political reality is hardly noticed, except = perhaps in the large number of police and military that one sees on the = streets of the capital. I played in the Chamber Music Hall of the Philharmonic, which was formerly = St. Roch's Roman Catholic church. Like Russia, Belarus is mostly Russian = Orthodox in religious affiliation; since the western part of the country = has been at times ruled by Poland and Lithuania, there is also a = substantial Roman Catholic minority, and there are still many Roman = Catholic churches in the country. St. Roch's Church was one of the few = buildings left standing in Minsk at the end of the war, though it was = heavily damaged. The church was used for a variety of purposes during the = Soviet period, but it was converted to a concert hall shortly after the = war. Recently the Roman Catholics have been allowed to hold regular = services there, but since the hall also contains a three manual mechanical = action Rieger-Kloss organ that belongs to the government, the hall will = continue to be used for concerts as well. The two Rieger-Kloss organs that I played in Belarus both had mechanical = action, and both were much better than the electric action organs by that = same firm that I have played in Russia. The organ in Minsk is a small = three manual instrument of neo-baroque orientation. It works well, and = makes what to my ears is quite a good sound. I practiced there every day = while I was in Minsk, and also gave a master class to the organ students = of the Belarusian State Conservatory. Vladimir Neudach is the young organ = professor there; in addition to study in Belarus he also studied in Graz, = Austria. Prof. Neudach told me many very interesting facts about organs = in Belarus. I was very surprised to learn that there are some 80 organs = extant in the country; a few of them even date from the late Baroque. The = organs were installed in Roman Catholic churches, but there has been no = money to keep them up for the past 70 years. In spite of that neglect, = many of the organs are still playable. This sounds like a great dissertation topic for somebody out there! :) = Unfortunately I wasn't able to travel to any small towns in Belarus to see = any of these old organs. My tour was sponsored in part by the US Embassy in Belarus. The people at = the Embassy were extraordinarily kind, though I must confess visiting the = Embassy was a bit disconcerting. The fortress atmosphere was more than a = bit scary, but I suppose that it has to be that way for security reasons. = Belarus is a poor country, and there were lots of Belarusian young people = waiting outside the US Embassy for visa interviews. I got a chance to = talk with a few of them, and like other Belarusians that I met, they were = all very polite and friendly. At my concert in Minsk on Friday, there were eight high officials of the = Embassy present. I was honored and delighted by their presence, and very = pleased that I could represent the USA while I was there. The US = Ambassador to Belarus was originally supposed to attend my recital, but at = the last minute had to attend a soiree at the French Embassy. I played my = usual kind of eclectic program: Prelude and Fugue in C (9/8) - J.S. Bach Five Versets on "Ave Maris Stella" - Marcel Dupre "Cecilia" - anonymous 17th. century Netherlands from the Yale Osborne Ms. = Transcribed by Charles Krigbaum, Yale University Organist Emeritus (thank = you, Charles, if you see this!) Aria and Toccata from "Uzbek Suite" - Georgi Mushel (Intermission) Concerto in G major -- Prince Johann Ernst of Sachsen-Weimar, transcribed = by J.S. Bach "Wondrous Love" - Samuel Barber Canzona quarti toni - Christian Erbach Variations on "America" - Charles Ives Encore: Symphonie III: Finale - Louis Vierne After the recital I was interviewed by a young man from Belarus State = Radio. He asked the usual kinds of questions, but also did through me a = "porcupine" question about my impressions of Belarus in light of what I = had heard from the Western media. Fortunately I was able to deflect that = little grenade lobbed my way! :) On Thursday I arrived at the Philharmonic Society to practice the piano = for a bit, and found my host, Tamara Savitskaya, very upset. Tamara, who = was absolutely lovely to me and did a fantastic job of organizing my tour, = told me that a German saxophone group that was supposed to play a concert = in Polotsk had had their car stolen, with all of their clothes and music = in the car! They had cancelled with only two days notice, and everyone in = the Philharmonic adminstration was in a panic about what to do. Polotsk = is a popular tourist destination there, and the German group was supposed = to play for a large group of tourists on Saturday, April 23, the day that = I was supposed to arrive there. Later on Thursday, Tamara came to me and = asked if I would be willing to play an extra recital in Polotsk the same = day that I was supposed to arrive there. To help them out and save the = day for them, I agreed. On Saturday we left early by car for Polotsk. The Embassy's sponsorship = had allowed the Philharmonic to hire a car and driver to take me there; = Tamara Savitskaya went alont to see that everything went according to = plan. On the way we stopped off at the infamous Khatyn Forest, where a = terrible massacre of over 100,000 people had taken place during the war. = It is a sobering sight, with monuments to the dead and to the many = villages that were wiped out during that terrible period. There are bells = that toll mournfully at intervals of about 15 seconds, I would guess. I = had heard about that dreadful atrocity all my life; it was really a moving = experience to visit it in person. Polotsk is a town of about 80,000 people. It is a very important place in = Slavic history, as it was an important town in the early Kievan kingdom of = Rus. Polotsk has been an important religious site since pagan times. = There are still large ceremonial stones called "Barys" Stones in several = places in the town, most notably right outside St. Sophiya's Cathedral. = Polotsk was the home of Franciska Skariny, a very important figure in = Slavic history. Skariny printed the first books in Cyrillic in Polotsk. = There is a fine small museum on the history of printing in a former = monastery in town. St. Sophiya's Cathedral is the oldest building in Belarus; it was built in = the 10th. century as an Orthodox Cathedral to rival the large cathedrals = in ancient Kiev. In the late 18th. century it was heavily damaged in one = of the many wars that has ravaged this area over the centuries, and was = restored and remodeled in Baroque style in the early 18th century. It has = marvelous acoustics, and is now a museum and concert hall. The three = manual Rieger-Kloss organ there is large--over 50 stops. It is by far the = best example of this builder's work that I have ever played. Both of my = concerts there were absolutely full, and the audiences were very warm and = enthusiatic. This is one of the reasons that I love playing in countries = of the former Soviet Union: organ recitals and concerts are often full to = capacity, and the audiences really seem to enjoy the music and the = instrument in most cases. Ksenia Pogorelaya is the staff organist of St. Sophiya's Cathedral. = Ksenia is a fine musician and a great lady who trained at the Moscow = Conservatory under Leonid Roismann. She also teaches at the excellent = music school in Polotsk. I was able to give a master class to a group of = her students, all of whom played very well indeed. Ksenia's daughter is a = particularly fine young organist who is also a talented composer. She = recently won second place in a competition for young organists from former = Soviet countries. I was delighted to have a chance to work with these = young people, and to get to know their talented teacher, Ksenia = Pogorelaya. It was really a privilege to get to play in Belarus, since performances by = American musicians there are relatively rare. I was the first American = organist to play in Polotsk, in fact. There hadn't been a recital in = Minsk by an American organist in over ten years! I really enjoy visiting = places that are off the beaten track. I usually meet a lot of wonderful = people, and some who are really outstanding musicians. Such was the case = in Belarus. By the way, I attended a splendid premiere of the ballet "La = Bayadere" by Minkus while I was in Minsk. The choreography was of course = the time honored classical choreography of the nineteenth century master, = Petipa, but the sets, costumes and production were brand new. It was = really marvelous. It just proved to me that although economic times may = be tough there, the country has a rich cultural life. I think that we in = the USA might learn something from that. Stephen Roberts Western CT State University, Danbury, CT  
(back) Subject: Re: Washington DC trip From: <Justinhartz@aol.com> Date: Sun, 1 May 2005 23:56:04 EDT   I've seen and heard the Stalacpipe organ in person. It sounds very much = like an organ harp.   Enjoy your trip!   Justin