Thursday, November 23, 2006

These were the days ...(an in joke)

A couple of days ago I passed the first anniversary of this blog. I was, however, too busy to mark this, as I was hosting the fifth visit to Dunoon of Voskresenije, a professional vocal ensemble from St Petersburg. Now, reeling slightly, I offer the fruits of my experience to the blogosphere.

So: Visiting Russians? Nae bother! (A brief guide)
The key to success is keeping the visit in mind for about eight months before it happens. You need to plan your publicity and the timing of adverts and press-releases and poster-putting-up (they send the posters). You need to arrange for sufficient host-families to put up the singers for the night of the performance. You should encourage others - I do this through a church - to supply tea and buns. Emails arrive from strange places and you realise the choir is to be in the UK for at least a month before you see them. This is important, as you can't be sure that the director will be able to hijack someone's computer at each venue. You need to be able to contact other hosts in moments of crisis - even if only to find out how many singers are coming this year. And then, despite all your confident predictions, they drive like the wind and arrive before the earliest you thought possible in a hired minibus driven by the conductor, intent on the nearest loo followed by a great deal of tea. In that order.

The singers like to eat before they sing - but not a proper meal. Anything like cakes, soup, rolls ...... anything. They rehearse, briefly, in the venue. They vanish, and reappear in performance mode. And the performance? Wonderful. The sound is intense, electrifying. At one point, as the whole ensemble came together on the word "gospodin", I felt the hair rise on my head - the volume reaching a pitch I would have thought only possible with amplification. The sopranoes are petite figures with huge and wonderful voices, and the second alto, who sang a solo, seems far too slender for such a rich cello-note.

But this is not a critique - it is a "how to". It is fun to have a few words of welcome in Russian, but not necessary. It is good to have filled the venue and to have charged realistic prices for the tickets - this is not some amateur group for whom you sell tickets apologetically. It is good to remember that this is their livelihood, and not to skin off half the takings for your own purposes. The singe
rs sell CDs and Russian dolls at the interval. They take a collection for students back home. They do a couple of great encores if you clap sufficiently - this is a good idea also. And then you take your alloted Russian(s) home and give them a good meal and put them to bed, where they will stay as long as possible.

You make like a proper Scottish seaside landlady at breakfast - whatever your own preference, sausages and black pudding vanish along with the bacon and eggs - and deliver them back to the meeting point in good time for their departure. Often more tea has to be consumed, and more cake/rolls/whatever: a sense of stocking up in case of problems later.

And problems happen. In the middle of writing this I had a phone call from Jurij, the conductor. The gales which we had feared have prevented the sailing of the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry, and they are due to sing on Arran tonight. No gig, no accommodation = substantial loss of revenue. Last I heard, they were heading for Cumbrae. It's a wild night. I hope they make it.

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