This post is a bit of an experiment, to see if what I am sending from St. Pete’s will transmit safely back home. I’m borrowing my title from Dostoevski’s novel Notes from Underground that serves as both an ode to this city and a celebration of self-loathing on a level that is truly stupefying, and instructive to the general civic character.

I’ve had many adventures to recount in two days here, some of which will be of great interest to readers of Sequenza21. But let me begin by setting the location.

Physical: St. Petersburg is on the Northern European Plain, at the end of the Gulf of Finland, on a latitude with Oslo, Norway and Anchorage, Alaska. Yes, it’s cold. In my very thorough preparations for this trip, somehow I forgot to bring gloves.

Historic: This city was Tsar Peter the Great’s gift to Russia 300 years ago: a dose of European sophistication for his ignorant peasants. Dostoevsky called it “the most abstract and premeditated city on the whole earth.” He should have known, having spent his entire adult life here, except for a few years in Siberia for offending the Tsar’s sense of propriety. The city blossomed in the 19th century, then morphed into Leningrad, Petrograd and back to St. Petersburg in the 20th, with a level of neglect that is difficult for Americans to imagine. But the 300th anniversary celebration last year brought many improvements, or so I’m told.

Cultural: St. Pete is dominated by three very conservative cultural institutions, The Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatoire, the Hermitage Museum and Music Academy, and the Kirov Ballet. More on each of these in posts to come.

So that’s a brief encapsulation. As I have time, I will report further on a fascinating composers seminar, orchestra rehearsal standards, and other observations from the other side.

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