Moscow Oratorio Alumni Page

Andrew Walker, Great Britain, a founding member who still sings with The Moscow Oratorio Society, remembers its beginnings:

«Andrew Sparke, an English contemporary of mine at the University of Exeter who worked for the BBC and another British journalist were at a party together and in chatting idly they suddenly thought it would be a good idea to stage the Messiah at Christmas. An advert was placed in the Moscow Times, and I rang Sparke and thus became one of the founder members. There were a number of Americans, of whom as far as I know none are left in Moscow. There was a Baptist minister called Brad, with a great sense of humour, a large gentleman called (by Russians) Danchik Oduvanchik who worked for Boeing, and others. Among the soloists was Toby Spence, an English tenor of outstanding merit (and friend of Andrew Sparke) who has since appeared at the Promenade Concerts in London and risen to international prominence. We remember the performance in 1993. In The Last Trumpet, the solo trumpeter added certain embellishments which had not been heard at the final rehearsal, and Andrew was not pleased. I don’t know why, because they sounded very good. This trumpeter is now in one of the Moscow orchestras»

Linda Knapp, USA, Director of the Moscow Oratorio Society from 1997-1998 remembers preparations for the Spring 1998 Concert in which Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms were given their first Russian performance:

«Leenda! Good evening. Hello. I have a most fabulous idea. We will perform so wonderful and grandiose a concert. In the Bolshoi Zal of the Moscow Conservatory. The Moscow Oratorio and my male Jewish choir. A fantastic opportunity for us. A Leonard Bernstein premier. The Chichester Pslams. First time in Moscow. First time in all of Russia. A full orchestra. Harps. Timpani. Fantastic!»

I cleared my throat to say something, but Sasha hurried on. «This year is the 50th anniversary of the founding of Israel. There will be so many celebrations in Moscow. This will be so big an event. Maybe I will bring the most famous cantor, Malovani, from New York to sing with us. We will do some other things too, of course, but the Chichester Psalms! This would be so big a concert for us.»

I listened patiently, and sighed. The choir had just performed an enormous Christmas concert at the Radisson in early December. It had been a huge success, but even four weeks later we were all still reeling from the exhaustive effort to pull off such an ambitious performance.

I flashed back to a moment a few days before that December concert when Sasha announced that we would have to transport the orchestra’s instruments and music stands to the Radisson Hotel ourselves. Including my electric piano. And the timpani. And the 17th century harpsichord. Which we still had to rent. And tune. I remembered my useless protests that musicians should be able to transport their own instruments, that we didn’t have a van, that we had no extra funds to handle this.

«But, Leenda, we must do this!» We found a way.

So, did he think we could pull this off, too? The Conservatory. The Bolshoi Zal. 2000 seats. Full orchestra. Seven timpani. Three harps. Not enough money. Not enough time. Not enough tenors! A Bernstein premier? I started to laugh.

«Leenda!» he continued, determined to persuade me. But I was not listening. What was the point? I sighed again, my mind racing through the weeks ahead. I knew it wasn’t possible.

I also knew we’d be there.

Because that’s how it is with Sasha. This 27 year-old double doctorate from the Moscow Conservatory talks me into the unreasonable, the impossible, the unthinkable. Every time.»

Claire Hughes, Great Britain, remembers the excitement of working with Sasha Tsaliuk:

«Sasha is what made the Moscow Oratorio so different from other choirs I’ve been in. His undying passion for music, no matter what (and you know what (no matter what) can mean in Russia), his drive for perfection — with us! — his humour when all else failed».