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w September 15, 2007

Mother Russia

Was in full flourish last night up at Davies Symphony Hall. Last Sunday my mom called from Toronto and said "you HAVE to get tickets to see this choir, I don't care how you do it". This choir is the Moscow Sretensky Monastery Choir on their world tour to celebrate the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church, and can I just say how bloody glad I am that they hit both Toronto AND San Francisco? Because there is no other way we would have a) known about them or b) been able to hear them.


Quite honestly, the people watching alone was worth the price of admission. I'm pretty sure every Russian in San Francisco was there, as well as a fair whack of Orthodox priests, genially schmoozing with their parishioners; the funniest part was after intermission when there was an excessively pervasive smell of cigarette smoke. Not something one is used to smelling in the fascist regime of health conscious Bay Area, you know? But this choir. I urge you to click through to the link so you can read about them in better detail than I can provide, but two things really struck me: 1) how young they all were. I'm sure there were a few men older than us, but not by a lot, and there were a LOT who were clearly younger. To get that kind of sonorous sound out of barely-not-teenagers says a great deal about their previous training, their current direction, and their clear dedication to their job. Possibly also to generations of heavy vodka-drinking. And 2) their pianissimo. Granted, their forte was awesome, pin-you-to-the-wall, but let's be honest: a lot of choirs can sing loud. To sing an impeccably controlled pianissimo with 40 men..40 Russian men...as though it were one voice? Well, I was all over goosebumps and hair standing up.

I could have left after the four sacred chants at the beginning and been perfectly satisfied, but their run of folk songs and 'romances' was just delightful, and a huge hit with the audience. There were a handful of soloists, most notably a bass-baritone named Dmitry Beloselsky, who proved so popular he would get preemptive applause when he stepped forward for additional songs. My mom had made me promise to stay for their encore, and it was worth it, although I have no clue what it actually was...sounded like a Cossack or Ukrainian folk song, complete with 'darrrum-darrum-darrrum' galloping runs and a few whoops and whistles thrown in for good measure. Very well received, but the best, the absolute best, was their second (and final) encore, which I'm guessing was a Benediction/Dismissal from the Divine Liturgy, because you should have seen that audience snap to its feet like there were nuns with rulers walking down the aisles. Everyone save us clearly knew what the deal was, and the burly priest in the loge with a hugely impressive white beard was smiling broadly and paternally. Anyway, we all left after that one, because you know, you don't argue with God. You've been blessed and dismissed, go now and sin no more.

We bought a CD of their 2004 recording of the Great Lent and Holy Week services, since I am convinced that Easter music in any church is usually the best -- if anyone wants to hear this, feel free to borrow, but you have to give it back, or I will put the evil eye on you. I wouldn't even let Gene put on music in the car on the way home, just wanted to keep the previous sound in my head as long as possible. It was that good.

I really wanted blini, caviar and vodka afterward, though.

by at September 15, 2007 10:23 AM | TrackBack Comments
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