Click on any photo for the full version! Happy end of year!!
Greetings to friends and family around the world. I write on the day of the winter solstice, and note with sadness that this world seems particularly darker than it did a year ago. I pray for light and truth to again be kindled in the hearts of those who lead, and who alone can set to the tone for this world.
May it be so.
Even with the death of my father in the waning days of 2017, my own 2018 has been significantly brighter than national and international news might allow!
Winter. A solo cabaret act. Loads of teaching and concert-going and the robust time of the year at the office. A quiet winter without any significant travel except for a quick trip to Naples, Florida to see Spencer go on as Prince Chulalongkorn in The King and I.
Spring. Begins with a trip to Moscow to discuss collaborations. Attend a concert in Tchaikowsky Hall. Tourist for full, long day in Moscow. Holy Week in London, with services at St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. My former student sings Gerontius at King’s College Cambridge. Wrap up the school year with a sizable graduating class. Pack up and finish work on my father’s estate. A week in NYC, and confirmation of a budding relationship. Solo/ensemble contest brings solid results. Senior recitals with three voice students. Attend the Tony Awards. Celebrated the completion of 10 years at Webster University.
Summer. Begins with a week in Lincoln at a conference. Then to Vienna on the Messing Faculty Award for three weeks of research and curriculum development. Side trips to Stockholm and Florence. Allergies abound in Vienna! Wept copious tears at the sight of Michelangelo’s David. Start the new school year with days of meetings, and a robust new-student class. Yufei visits Saint Louis. Start work with Variety Children’s Choruses as the new conductor. Celebrate my 57th birthday with a day of museum visits in Vienna, and a screening of The Third Man at a kino.
Autumn. Auggie turns 8. Sabbatical begins in mid-October. Accept a gig with Circus Harmony as composer and music director for the big January show. Start traveling immediately. Chicago with Yufei. Toronto and Niagara Falls with my nephew Luke. Washington, D.C. (pandas!!) and NYC with Yufei. Chicago again. And Christmas at home in Lee’s Summit with my sisters. Attend multiple Circus Harmony classes and practices. Conduct a holiday concert with the Variety Children’s Choruses. Attend Joffrey Ballet and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Over the course of the year I’ve witnessed powerful live concert performances. Viewed some of the world’s greatest artworks. Learned more about cooking. Kept up the slow renovations on a 100+ year-old home. Enjoyed some stunning meals (Stockholm, Vienna, Chicago, NYC all were gastro-delight locations). Worshipped in grand and beautiful spaces. Composed some decent music. Shot loads and loads of photos (I’m starting to understand light much better). Whipped up homemade plum jam and blood orange marmalade. Taken various architectural tours. Read more books than the year before, and also a big chunk of the Bible. Extended my cufflink-buying spree with a dozen new pairs. Imparted lessons about singing, and about life, with students. Loved on my dog. Caught up with friends in far-flung places. Bought more new eyeglasses. Fallen in love.
Not a bad year indeed.
May 2019 bring us comfort and joy and challenges that we can together address.
Random photos from the trip, not yet published:
Dinner in Cambridge. BBQ chicken pizza. And a local G&T. (The BBQ sauce was very sweet.)
Breakfast in Vienna.
Vienna hotel room.
We don’t see Uzbekistan Airlines every day in the USA!
Red Square. Moscow.
The view from my flat in London.
I’m in Vienna now, but need to update on my last full day in Moscow, where I was a tourist!
Now 3.55 p.m. in Moscow, I’m in seat 2F on Austrian 602 to Vienna.
Saturday was my tourist day in Moscow.
I was met at 9.30 a.m. by Anatoly, my hired guide, and the driver Viktor, in his black Mercedes.
For the next 3.5 hours we tootled around Moscow:
- several of Stalin’s Seven Sisters
- a diorama of the Kremlin, housed at another of the Seven Sisters
- the new skyscraper development on the Moscow River
- the largest of the Seven Sisters, a massive and overwhelming edifice at Moscow University
- Swallow Hill, and the view over Moscow
- the old Soviet expo center, and the Cosmonaut Monument
- Church of the Savior, the largest and most important Orthodox church building in Moscow
- the Moscow River, and the southern wall of the Kremlin.
We passed by the Bolshoi, various government buildings, and ended up at the Kremlin.
And once inside:
- cannons salvaged 200 years ago from Napoleon’s disastrous winter in Moscow, now lining the walls outside the old armory
- the building built in the 1960s for the meetings of the party congress
- Cathedral Square, and the five cathedrals and a bell tower
- the gardens
- a 207 metric ton bell that broke before it could ever ring
- a massive cannon
Anatoly explained for me Orthodox iconography, and I was grateful to know more about the adornments in the church.
The Kremlin includes five cathedrals, each for a different purpose — one for coronations, one for daily use, one for Sundays, and so on.
We exited onto Red Square, and the breathtaking sight of St. Basil’s Cathedral and those inexplicable, have-to-see-them onion domes.
The interior is made of nine different church, one under each dome, and each one with a different purpose and focus. The cathedrals and St. Basil’s are all part of the Kremlin Museums, and are loosely consecrated for the occasional service.
A group of four men sang a Russian church song whilst we were in the central church, and I caught some of that on video.
Crossing the giant expanse of Red Square [that’s a link to an hour-long video, and worth watching if you love military splendor and want a sense of Russian pride], and thinking of all the military parades that once passed there, I stepped up to the entrance of GUM department store, turned back, and saw Lenin’s tomb on the center line, under a Kremlin tower, perfectly aligned with the store, and under the window of Putin’s office. Lenin is still on view five days a week, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
GUM is really a huge indoor shopping mall, now filled with top-end retailers. It’s incredibly impressive.
And then we did the subway tour. Various subway stations are now ignored by the inured locals, but are feasts for a tourist. The hammer & sickle, and the sheaf of wheat — these are everywhere. As is Lenin. The Belorusskaya stop is a tribute to Belorussia, with mosaics of people in native dress, and symbols of nature. Another stop is filled with bronze statues celebrating the virtues of the Soviet people, doing things like being students and farmers and workers. (All the men are sculpted with hunky arms.). Another stop celebrates great Russian military victories in mosaics. Yet another has stained glass raided from the cathedral in Riga. (I took a great photo at this stop.)
Anatoly explained some architecture to me — the inverted swallow-tail ramparts at the Kremlin (which means fortress or citadel), the Seven Sisters, the decoration on various buildings. And we talked some politics and quite a bit of history. I taught him the American term for chair-lift or tram, and a few slang phrases.
Security is tighter than I realized. Even to go in the church or department store, or a hotel, one passes through a metal detector. I was surprised by the security at the airport today. At one of the subway stops yesterday, I grabbed a photo of the gaggle of 18-year-old policemen fulfilling their one year of compulsory military duty. Anatoly said that he finds them rather useless, but I find the sight of policemen (and a few women) everywhere to be quite reassuring for a tourist, and a bit forbidding. The police with riot gear and helmets at Sportivnaya were positively scary though, and for the first time in my traveling life, I wondered what might happen if I were caught in a public demonstration of some sort.
The Moscow Metro Circle Line stations, and some of the other stations as well, are justly famous for their public art. Much of it was intended under Stalin and later Khrushchev as propaganda.
My best photo of the trip so far (it’s a half-second exposure) is from Novoslobodskaya:
I was enamored with these two elderly ladies shuffling to a train:
Outside Moscow’s third ring road stands the Museum of Astronautics, with this incredible memorial to the Russian space and cosmonaut program. The fences are adorned with medallions featuring Sputnik.
And nearby is the artifact from the 1936 Paris international exposition, which actually happened in 1937.
This is a stunning piece of Soviet propaganda!
Even today, the hammer & sickle are everywhere.
To learn more about this sculpture, visit http://culturedarm.com/1937-paris-international-exposition/.
Anyone who reads this blog will now of my fascination with cemeteries whilst I travel. I call it necro-tourism.
Many of Russia’s most famous politicians, military leaders, musicians and poets and artists are buried at Novodevich’ye Cemetery in Moscow. I spent a few minutes there yesterday, but escaped to the Metro before the sports throngs showed up in the same area for the Brazil-Russia ‘friendly’ football match. (The military and police presence was enough to make a foreigner flee. But the horses were adorable.)
Although the cemetery visit was short, I was able to see enough to make me realize that this is a photographer’s paradise.
Sadly, because of the football event and the early closing of the cemetery and the convent that gave it a name, I did not get to explore as much as I might wish. Perhaps next time. The graves of Prokofiev and Shostakovich and Pushkin and Stanislavsky and Chekhov and Rostropovich and a guy named Khrushchev all await!