Dear Russia: Love, America

The view of sunrise from the plane as I left Toulouse

Russia: the only country to span two continents, featuring twice as much landmass as the United States and half the population. Undoubtedly, Russia was a place I never thought I would visit. Krasnoyarsk: an even more unusual destination. This city is the second largest in Siberia and is located in the center of Asian Russia, north of Mongolia. I think I was in denial about the total distance, as I avoided looking it up in Google maps until after I had already arrived!

The view from our floor at the hotel in Krasnoyarsk

My journey began at 6:30AM with a flight from Toulouse, accompanied by my mother. Her stalwart assistance proves the adage: “two heads are better than one.” She helped to navigate foreign airports (with non-Arabic alphabets) and generally alleviated much of the stress that accompanies traversing six time zones with two recitals at the other end! After our first layover in Amsterdam, we arrived to pandemonium in Moscow and to announcements in heavy Russian accents describing “technical difficulties.” The computers were down, which meant that nobody was able to get their tickets at the ticket counters or kiosks throughout all of the Sheremetyevo Airport. Thanks to some quick phone work and some probably insanely high-priced data (I’ll look forward to getting that bill in three weeks), I managed to get us mobile boarding passes and we made it to the plane, just in time for the five-hour flight to Krasnoyarsk.

The fantastic Krasnoyarsk Philharmonic Hall “team”

We landed in complete darkness at 5:30AM KST (Krasnoyarsk Standard Time—11:30PM Central European Time) on Friday morning. This seemed all the more intimidating when surrounded by a completely foreign language (especially one so closely associated with television villains, thanks to American media) after 18 hours of travel and with only a Facebook photo to help identify the person who should pick us up. However, this was when the organizers of the Krasnoyarsk organ concerts showed their deft management of scheduling and planning ahead as we arrived at the hotel (45 minutes from the airport), were able to sleep for three hours, and had a wonderful breakfast. We then arrived at the Philharmonic Hall in time for my first rehearsal, which took place at noontime that same day for the concerts of Sunday and Monday!

Ah yes, the complications of the mechanical musical instrument!

For those of you who have never encountered an organ quite like this one (please do see the picture to the right), allow me to briefly explain. There are three combinations, in addition to the handregister (where the stops themselves move). Each combination (A, B, and C) corresponds with a color (green, yellow, and red, respectively) and each stop has a pin in each color. In order to have the first manual’s (Great’s) 16′ Principal (stop #12) on combination A, you must pull out the tiny green pin associated with that stop (found above it on the photo). Several pins had broken in half, making it difficult to see which pins were drawn. With a program of Escaich, Ives, Vierne, Reger and Dupré, I certainly had my work cut out for me to select registrations for each concert! The managers of the Philharmonic Hall were most accommodating, giving me an abundance of practice time and two excellent stop pullers. I was also fortunate that the neo-classical quality of the organ worked extremely well for the repertoire I had chosen.

View from the balcony at Sunday evening’s concert

I really cannot speak highly enough of these managers, who arranged for a translator to be available to help whenever needed, a driver to take me to and from the Philharmonic Hall for rehearsal and concerts and take me on quick tours of some of the beautiful sights of Krasnoyarsk. The driver(s) also indirectly showed off some of the driving of the area—I’m still not sure what exactly is considered a “lane” in this part of the world, especially in the roundabouts. The translator even took my mother and me to the market to pick out some stunning Russian scarves as souvenirs to bring home.

Some choice tidbits from this most recent travel:

Offering cake... again!
Offering cake… again!

Believe me when I say that tea and coffee is always offered, and this ritual is highly respected. If you refuse, it will be offered again…and again… and again!

The above statement also applies to champagne. Hide your glass, or it will be topped off continually.

Again, the same thing for cake, which was required upon arriving at the Philharmonic hall, during intermission, and following the concert. I think I somehow still lost weight during this trip.

Same view from our window. The weather ran the gamut from low 50s to low teens during our 4-day stay!
Same view from our window. The weather ran the gamut from low 50s to low teens during our 4-day stay!

During the celebratory cocktail hour following each concert, the conversation somehow always somehow ended up in describing my beauty (the wonder of recital gowns!) in vivid detail in Russian (so I did not realize what was happening until the conversation was well underway and they had finished discussing my eyes and were onto my ears and goodness knows what else). One sure way to make me feel flattered but extremely uncomfortable…

Not only is the organ in the Krasnoyarsk Philharmonic Hall the only organ in the city of Krasnoyarsk, it is the only organ in the entire Krasnoyarsk Krai, the region of which Krasnoyarsk is the political and administrative center. This region is the second largest of the 92 federal subjects of Russia!

Americans do say, “thank you” and “I’m sorry” a lot, to the extent where “thank you, yes” and “thank you, no” became a fond joke among the Russians. Even my mother learned these phrases… in Russian.

IMG_2216Apparently a popular thing for young people in Krasnoyarsk to do is to visit the beautiful mountains nearby, where you can drink, eat, and party… as long as you avoid the bears. And the “giant rats”?!

In order to visit beautiful Mongolia, which lies but a mere 1200 kilometers from Krasnoyarsk, one has to drive through a city where all residents ride horses, have knives, and hate Russians. Needless to say, few people drive there.

“Russian men say that they like thin women, wine, and Hindemith when they really like fat women, vodka, and Tchaikovsky.” Said in a roomful of stunningly gorgeous, thin women.  This is why they try to feed everybody cake all the time.

While in Russia, I experienced some of the most meaningful toasts (especially after a half glass or so of champagne) about intercultural friendship and appreciation of music, which transcends international borders.

The ambivalent façade is just that: a façade. Russians are some of the most welcoming and passionate people I have never met.

Boarding the huge plane to go home from the tarmac at the small Krasnoyarsk airport
Boarding the huge plane to go home from the tarmac at the small Krasnoyarsk airport

Most Russians speak some English, as it is taught in grade school. However, they are shy about making mistakes so they are much more likely to respond positively if one adequately butchers a few Russian words first.

When arriving at the philharmonic hall from the frigid weather, it is perfectly acceptable to change from your stiletto boots, which seem extremely perilous to wear in the icy streets, into your stiletto shoes.

Rooms are kept around 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25-26 Celsius), even when everybody is sweating.

All stairs are uneven. Beware.

Russians have monuments and statues for everything. Sometimes they don’t even know what these monuments commemorate.

Organ recitals seem to be date night for young couples

Organ recitals have “groupies,” who collect the signatures and photographs of recitalists, as well as selfies in front of the organ.

One of several children who ran out immediately following the last piece (not even waiting until people finished clapping!) to get autographs and photographs. What enthusiasm for the organ!
One of several children who ran out immediately following the last piece (not even waiting until people finished clapping!) to get autographs and photographs. What enthusiasm for the organ!

A lot of middle-school-aged children attend each concert, also collecting signatures. Even more interesting, very few or none of these children play or will ever study the organ.

Apparently Parliamentarians also attend organ recitals. I not only met two, but they presented me with a suitcase-sized souvenir box full of Russian candies. I’m still not sure how I got it home (perhaps I speak too soon as I am at my final layover at CDG… hour 16/20 of travel today!) and I definitely had to check my bag.

Flying from Moscow to Paris and leaving just as sunset begins, you will literally experience a 4-hour sunset, arriving just in time to see the sun disappear over the Eiffel Tower.

Bienvenue à Paris

Photo from the plane leaving Krasnoyarsk
Photo from the plane arriving in CDG

2 thoughts on “Dear Russia: Love, America

  1. Carolyn Parsons says:

    Dear Katelyn, I so enjoy your postings. What wonderful experiences. We we in Russia in June, amazing country to visit! Looking forward tobyour next posting. Carolyn Parsons

  2. Lois Toeppner says:

    Such fun to follow your travels and read of your successes. I’m curious – did you have to arrange your performances? How did they come about? My honey and I have been in Russia – a river cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It was totally wonderful and the people very gracious. Katelyn, I continue to wish you the best and offer whatever support I might!

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