Starving Artists in Moscow

This is another “blast from the past” blog post. For some reason, I’ve been thinking about all the travel adventures I had before I ever started this blog! In my last post, I took you on a wild ride through Nepal, and this time, I’d like to take you to Russia…

There’s a certain mystique about the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. It’s a prestigious classical music contest, and it has a very old-school Russian atmosphere. But Americans have been quite successful there. Famous gold medalists include Van Cliburn (piano) in 1958 and Deborah Voigt (voice) in 1990.

So I felt humbled to be the only American vocalist invited to compete in the XIII International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2007. This is, after all, a serious international medal competition with several events (piano, cello and voice) and it only happens once every four years. I felt like I was going to the Olympics!

We were even treated like Olympians.  Our travel and housing expenses were covered by the competition. (Even my pianist’s expenses were covered, so I invited Ayako, a friend and colleague from the Mozarteum in Austria, to perform with me in Moscow.) We received free T-shirts, tote bags, commemorative pins and magnets. We all lived in the same mega-hotel, right outside the center of town, just like an Olympic Village.

The officials posted intricate schedules, where hundreds of competitors were organized by name, instrument and nationality. (“Lindsay Feldmeth, voice, USA & Ayako Watanabe, piano, Japan” — I learned to recognize our names in the Cyrillic alphabet.)

The competitors traveled into the city together by bus. (Well, Ayako and I often escaped and used the subway instead, but we’re rebellious like that.) We even took a group field trip to the Tchaikovsky Museum in Klin!

So when they announced that we would also receive a certain number of free meals, we were delighted. Like most young artists, Ayako and I were on a tight budget, and good food can be expensive in Russia. We were issued several blue “meal tickets,” for use at the cafeteria in Tchaikovsky Hall.

On the first day of the competition, we landed in the cafeteria after a long and exhausting rehearsal. I surveyed the dishes underneath the glass and pointed to a delicious dish of lamb. But the man serving the food shook his head emphatically. “Nyet.”

“Oh!” I said, looking down at the blue ticket in my hand.  “Well, that makes sense,” Ayako whispered to me in German.  “After all, it’s a free lunch. They can’t give us all lamb.”

I nodded, smiled, and pointed at a smaller dish of chicken breast. “Nyet.”  Hesitating, I indicated a corn salad.  “Nyet.”  Confused, I looked to see what the other competitors were eating. When I saw what they had chosen, I pointed sadly to a burnt piece of meat that resembled beef tongue.  “Da!” said the man happily, scooping it onto my tray.

We were still grateful for the free lunch, but it really wasn’t the best meal of the year. After that, Ayako and I ate out as often as possible. Restaurants are pricey in Moscow, but there are a variety of good places to eat within steps of Red Square, if you know where to look.  I can recommend this website.

But even if the food was underwhelming, nothing could match the experience of singing onstage at Tchaikovsky Hall.  It was a magic moment.  Afterwards, I gave a backstage interview (in English, thank goodness!) for a Russian radio program.

Throughout the experience, I was deeply touched by the Russians’ love for classical music.  I could not believe how many spectators showed up to watch the preliminary rounds of the competition — even on weekday mornings!

After the quarter finals, I went out to the lobby to get some air.  I had only been standing there for a few minutes when I was approached by an older Russian gentleman.  He pointed to my picture in the program.  “Leensee Fyeldmet?” he asked hopefully.  “Yes, that’s me,” I said. He pressed a pen into my hand and asked me to autograph his program.  Then he threw his arm around me and had his son take our picture! It was a sweet moment.

I didn’t win any medals at the Tchaikovsky Competition. But I will always consider Moscow my “Olympic” experience. до свидания!

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2 thoughts on “Starving Artists in Moscow

  1. Pingback: My Name in Japanese | the Globetrotting Soprano

  2. Pingback: the White Nights of St Petersburg | the Globetrotting Soprano

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