After arriving in St. Petersburg yesterday afternoon, after connecting through Helsinki, with its clean, modern airport, I am beginning to see the glories of St. Petersburg. The city, like Venice and Amsterdam, is a city of canals and bridges, and its architectural diversity–reflecting many centuries of urban development and a mix of cultures–is truly spectacular, and, as I am discovering, one that can be conquered easily on foot. Being able to walk a city is to be able to know it, and I am going to plan my time here so as to allow for walking from one meeting to another.
I am here on a Cultural Fellowship sponsored by the Likhachev Foundation to research Russian music from the Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall with the hope of discovering interesting music to present at Symphony Space’s Wall to Wall Behind the Wall on May 15th. While the annual music marathon will be replete with some of the great masters from the former Soviet Union and other communist countries–including, of course, Shostakovich, Schnittke, Bartok, Ligeti, Penderecki, and more–I want to bring to New Yorkers music not yet known in the U.S.
It is truly an honor to have been awarded this fellowship, and I, along with the other fellows, are walking around in a state of disbelief. Our hotel is really nice, our host, Elena Vitenberg, the Fellowship Program’s Coordinator, is totally organized and focused and filled with positive energy, and our individual programs have been well-designed to maximize our time here.
This is the second year of the Likhachev Foundation’s Cultural Fellowship program, designed to foment cultural awareness and appreciation of Russian culture in America. Projects range from museum to literary to scientific, and now, with Wall to Wall Behind the Wall, music.
So, after arriving yesterday afternoon, most of my time was spent arranging for an international mobile phone and to get wifi for my laptop. Then, the welcome dinner in the banquet hall of the hotel, with panoramic views of the city. Opening remarks by the Likahachev Foundation’s Executive Director, Alexander Kobak, and then a welcome by the well-groomed hotel manager in her spike heels and close-fitting power suit, proud to be hosting our group, were followed by vodka and champagne toasts and a delicious meal. A briefing to review our schedule of meetings, and then the weary travelers headed off to bed.
This morning I wakened very early but used the time to write some notes to myself in preparation for the day’s meetings before heading off to the spa for an early swim and sauna before breakfast. The morning meal was as I had expected: tables of food laid out regally that included fresh fruit, fruit salad, cereals, yogurt, sweet pastries, brown bread, white bread, eggs, cheeses, ham and other meats, tomato and cucumber salad, and more tables loaded with food that I never even bothered to investigate.
A mini-bus took us all to the Foundation offices where we were given an hour and a half history of Likhachev and a quick review of 20th century Russian political history. From there, lunch, and then we split off into our first project-related meetings.
Today I met with musicologist and critic Olga Manulkina who is writing a book on American music from Ives to Adams, but who knows the whole history of Russian music and walked me through the late 19th century to today, helping me to organize my research. With her was Katya Puzankova, the music coordinator of St. Petersburg’s contemporary arts foundation, Pro Arte. After our meeting, they left me at one of the major canals and I walked the few miles back to the hotel, getting a sense of the elegant and beautifully laid out city.