Jeff warned me that I would be surprised by St. Petersburg’s low standards with regard to ensemble playing, from students at the Conservatoire to the Kirov Orchestra under Gergiev. Unfortunately, the second rehearsal (I skipped the first) of Amadeus ex machina proved him right. Despite his best efforts to get them to cohere, the musicians seemed perfectly willing to accept sloppy attacks that would never be tolerated in an American ensemble. It’s very difficult to explain: it’s not that they are poor musicians — far from it — but this is an aspect of their training that has clearly been neglected. One would almost think that they prefer the blurred effect they were getting to the clarity of ensemble playing prized by American orchestras.

This flies delightfully in the face of the conventional wisdoms I was raised on, where Russians are highly disciplined cogs in a machine and Americans are freedom-loving nonconformists.

Amadeus ex machina will suffer with this lack of precision, but there are two more rehearsals, so I still have hopes that progress can be made before Sunday.

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