It’s been just over a week since the Russian premiere of Amadeus ex machina, and I’m finally getting around to an attempt to describe what happened after the concert.

First of all, the audience members were of all ages, from children to senior citizens, pretty evenly distributed, which is always nice to see.

After the applause for the Barber Violin Concerto died down, four of us assembled on stage for a post-concert talk: the conductor (Jeffrey Meyer), two composers (Sergei Slonimsky and me) and the violin soloist doubling as interpreter (Anastacia Khitruk).

A. Khitruk

Post-concert talks are practically unheard of in St. Petersburg, so none of us really knew what to expect. About thirty-five people stayed to ask questions. It was certainly an odd scene: an audience member would ask a question in Russian, Anastacia would translate it into English, I would take a crack at answering it, she would translate my response into Russian, then Sergei would give his answer. All of this would be fine, except Sergei’s answers were never translated into English, so I had no idea what he was saying. For all I knew, he was telling the audience that my answers were idiotic. At one point, I could tell he was talking about my piece, but I really had no way of telling what he was saying.

l. to r.: Khitruk, Meyer, Dillon, Slonimsky

One older gentleman in the front row held forth for a while, and I was able to get the gist of what he was asking. When Anastacia translated, my guess was confirmed. He said he wanted more American music, and not just the pretty stuff by Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland. He wanted Elliott Carter, and other challenging composers.

I thanked him for his sense of adventure. I said that there are so many people in the world who don’t want to know about anything outside of their own experience, so the rest of us have to work extra hard to make challenging connections.

Afterwards, I was bewildered by the line of autograph seekers: people, young and old, who wanted me to sign their programs. Not a scene I’m used to in the States.

Later, I asked Anastacia what Sergei had been saying about my music. He seemed like a very pleasant man, and his piece, Symphony No. 8, was a striking concertino-for-orchestra with some truly beautiful moments.

Sergei Slonimsky with his uncle Nicolas (r.) and John Cage (c.)

Turns out he loved my piece, had a number of nice compliments, but completely misunderstood the title, telling the audience that Mozart was NOT a machine.

What should a composer say when appreciated for the wrong reasons?

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