The seminar drew to a close in amiable fashion, with many handshakes and stammered, multi-lingual attempts at well-wishes. Radvilovich then invited us to join him for coffee. We cleared out of the room just as a musicology conference was gathering and trudged through the snow to the CafÃ© Idiot.
A group of five of us sat at a round table and ordered our hot drinks, which the CafÃ© Idiot traditionally serves with a complimentary shot of vodka. I don’t know if it was the vodka, the brisk walk or the informal surroundings, but Radvilovich warmed up quite a bit, and I was able to ask him more about his work and the contemporary music scene in Russia.
He began by lamenting the level of performance of new music in Russia. He raved about the recordings I had brought featuring American performers, where every detail was so polished, and the music was really allowed to sparkle (thank you Cassatt Quartet, Mendelssohn Quartet, Carolina Chamber Symphony). He spoke of a flute/percussion duo he had written, which was performed in Germany by a pair of Americans. He was shocked that they were willing to rehearse for four hours straight. He asked them how much time they had spent with the piece, and they said it was their eighth rehearsal, which he found astounding.
(That’s actually one of the reasons I prefer writing chamber music to writing for orchestra. Orchestras can’t afford to make that kind of commitment, whereas it’s not uncommon for chamber ensembles — it’s not always the case, of course, but it is certainly more frequent.)
Radvilovich then bemoaned the lack of support for new music from the administration of the St. Petersburg Conservatory (sound familiar to anyone?) and the difficulty of getting his hands non-Russian music. He said he has been teaching his students Berio’s Sinfonia for years, and yet he’s never seen a score.
I promised him I would see what I could do to help, which may not be much, but whatever is possible is necessary. I asked him for copies of his music, and I understand that a package is now somewhere in the postal ether on its way to my door as I type these words.
And I’ve got plans for that package.