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Thalia Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

An Update from St. Petersburg

Published on August 26, 2009

Mariinsky Theatre

  Mariinsky Theatre

An incredible day. Early morning swim and sauna followed by another sumptuous breakfast with my colleagues, then a walk through town, past the Mariinsky Theater to the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory of Music where I met with four composers who presented their work in a master class-workshop setting; I heard four distinct styles of music and was quite impressed with two of the four. One of these two, in addition to a large work for soprano and orchestra that had recently won an international prize in Italy, presented a short animated film with original music that was clever and absorbing.

Then came a tour of the Conservatory’s Museum which contained photos and artifacts of some of the school’s most celebrated faculty and graduates, including Shostakovich, Anton Rubinstein, Leopold Auer, P.I. Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, and others. A visit to the music manuscript library took my breath away. A highlight was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphony No. 1, in his own hand, with two pages ripped out, and an inscription on the edges of the remaining paper – in Russian of course – “IDIOT!” and “DUMB HEAD!” Apparently, he was not pleased with his orchestration, and gave this copy to his favorite student, Glazunov, perhaps to spur him think about a composer’s vulnerabilities and the need to be ruthlessly honest about one’s work.

A 1908 student assignment by the young Prokofiev had a hand-marked grade of 4.5 (out of a possible 5) by his primary teacher, Glazunov, and then a grade of 5 by the overseeing committee, who over-rode the lower grade. If this doesn’t humble one….

The evening involved a tour of the Dostoevsky Museum – the last apartment in which Dostoevsky and his family lived before his death – and then a seminar in the museum’s lecture hall, in which all of the fellows presented background information on their institutions and their research projects to cultural journalists (radio, TV, and print journals), cultural leaders, and government officials, including the cultural affairs attaché from the U.S. consul general’s office. The presentations concluded with a performance of my solo piano work, Danza Piccola (my first performance in Russia), followed by a set of traditional soviet-style folk music on traditional instruments. I conducted my first radio interview; there will be more to follow. And, of course, there was vodka. And another lavish spread of food and lots of stimulating conversation.

Art-Contrast Traditional Ensemble
Art-Contrast Traditional Ensemble
Dostoevsky's Desk
Dostoevsky’s Desk
Kaminsky & Mazhara, pianist
Kaminsky & Mazhara, pianist

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