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Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by bruzzes, Dec 4, 2002.

  1. bruzzes

    bruzzes Truthslayer

    My brother has recently returned from St. Petersburg, Russia, where a world premiere of one of his compositions was staged.

    The composition was dedicated to the 118 victims of the submarine Kurst. I have attached a newsletter from him for those who might be interested in music, in Russia and in Glastnost.

    Hi everyone! To misquote the Beatles, Ive just returned from the USSR! What an extraordinary trip. The story begins with a collaboration with the Russian concert pianist, Halida Dinova to write a piano concerto that ended up being dedicated to the 118 victims of the Kursk disaster two summers ago. Youll have to read further to find out how it all ended!

    The crew included Laura Paglin (videographer), Halida Dinova (concert pianist) and me (composer). We left Cleveland Saturday morning (Nov. 16th) on a roller coaster flight on American Eagle (a euphemism for a small crowded bus with wings) to New York where we had a seven hour lay-over. We spent most of that time at a fast food pizza place in Terminal 8 where Halida practiced piano on the tabletop while Laura videotaped everything that moved!

    Everything was going well until it came time to board our Finnair flight to Helsinki. I was boarding early, rolling down the jet bridge in my wheelchair with my ventilator on my lap (Laura was just ahead of me videotaping my entrance) when my front wheel hit a snag causing the ventilator to lurch forward, out of my lap, off my right ankle and onto the ground! The impact badly bruised my foot causing it to throb and ache for entire flight. Even though I was not able to put much weight on my foot, I was even more concerned that the fall had damaged the ventilator. We arrived early the next morning in Helsinki where we waited a short time to take the forty-minute hop across the Bay of Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia.

    As we dropped out of the sunlight and through the clouds to land, we didnt know that we would not see the sun until the day after Thanksgiving Day! After passing through immigration and customs rather speedily, we were met by Denis Leonov, manager of the Concert Agency Intrada, the organization that facilitated the recording project. The drive to Vasilievsky Island where our hotel was located took us through the center of St. Petersburg and introduced us to the beautiful spectacle that is St. Petersburg!

    The hotel was another matter. Hotel Pribaltiyskaya is a 15-story cement block affair reminiscent of Soviet times. It was Swedish designed and Russian built (1970s) and is supposed to be handicap accessible. Ill tell you more about the accessible issue as we go along. Upon arrival we discovered that the rooms were very small. I could not easily maneuver my wheelchair. The bathroom was not really wheelchair accessible although I was able to manage. The shower stall had a very slight lip on the floor, which slanted inward to the drain. It also had grab bar-like structures on both sides that made taking a shower just possible for me.

    However, the first thing on my mind was my concern for the ventilator. Before leaving the States,
    I had called the manufacturer to see what kind of voltage adapter I might need for Russia. I was told that the ventilator had a built-in switch that automatically adjusted for voltage changes. Unfortunately that was for my original ventilator that I had been using for nine years and that had burned out just two weeks earlier. The model I was using now was a loaner. The first thing I did was plug in the ventilator and switch it on. It made a Brrrrr sound for a brief moment and went silent! No matter how many times I switched it on and off, it did not respond. I could feel the panic setting in. What was I to do? I was immediately depressed. I thought that I had burnt out the motor. Fortunately Russian ingenuity saved the day. A maintenance man discovered that a fuse had blown. He managed to replace it and the ventilator worked perfectly! I was ecstatic! The bad omen of the ventilator/foot encounter had been cancelled out by the good omen of the replacing of the fuses.

    After our first night in Russia, Halida called from her place in the center of the city to see how
    I was doing. My foot was very sore and somewhat swollen so she arranged for me to see the hotel doctor who told me that the injury was not serious. She medicated it with some salve and wrapped it with an ace bandage. By now it was Monday (Nov. 18) and rehearsals would not begin until the 21st. So I was pretty much stuck in the hotel for a few days.

    Getting around St. Petersburg for a person with a disability is a problem. The city is not at all sensitive to the disabled. Almost all buildings have stairs, no elevators, and the lavatories are almost always in the basement. The buses do not have lifts although Im told that people will offer to carry you onto the bus, wheelchair and all. The streets and sidewalks are often under construction and there are no curb cuts. The driving habits of the St. Petersburgers are maddening. Pedestrians beware! I cant imagine trying to cross a busy street in a wheelchair. During the entire trip, I did not see anyone with a disability except for the few who were sitting on the sidewalks begging! I would have given anything to be able to interview one of them. The insensitivity to disability is even reflected in the language. The only word to describe a person with a disability is Invalid. As much as I love St. Petersburg I know that I could not live and function there.

    While I was isolated on the island, Laura got her courage up and ventured into the city via public transportation accompanied only by her Russian phrase book and her camera. The first day, she took the number 7 bus to Nevsky Prospeckt (the main boulevard in the center of the city) and returned quite proud of her accomplishment. The next day she decided to leave for the city right after breakfast. I expected she would return right after dark (about 4 PM). Well the evening progressed and there was no Laura. After a while I became alarmed. We had all heard about the muggings and other crimes that supposedly ran rapid in Russia. At 8 PM I inquired at the desk about the hotel shuttle service schedule. The last shuttle had returned an hour earlier. At about 8:45 I was ready to call the police when I spotted Laura trudging in out of the cold with an exasperated look on her face. She had spent three hours on the bus. It seems that she had taken the same bus that she had taken the night before but this time the bus seemed to go in circles forever. Were still trying to figure that one out.

    Meanwhile, rehearsals finally began. The Academic Cappella Orchestra of St. Petersburg usually rehearses in the Cappella, a beautiful hall with extraordinary acoustics. Unfortunately, it was under renovation so the orchestra had turned gypsy and was rehearsing at a variety of venues. Our first rehearsal site was at the Naval Academy located just across the street from the Summer Palace and Hermitage. The academy unfortunately was not as beautiful as its neighbors. In fact it was quite run down. Getting in to the building was to be my first adventure in accessibility. Mr. Leonov made a call on his cell phone and two young naval cadets dressed in long blue coats appeared and promptly carried me and my wheelchair up two flights of steps. This was to be a reoccurring theme from first rehearsal to final concert. The rehearsal hall was so live that all the sound was forte to fortissimo no matter how soft one tried to play. Halida had to play very loudly and mechanically so the orchestra could hear her. Going to the bathroom was another matter. The mens lavatory was located in the basement. There was a toilet next to the hall but it was for women. This nicety was waived for me. Inside the bathroom there was a line of urinals on the wall and a series of toilet stalls with no commodes - only holes in the ground. I can only imagine how a woman would use them.

    From the time we landed in Russia Halida and Mr. Leonov kept insisting that taking pictures or video taping the orchestra was forbidden. In fact, when ever Laura pulled out her camera there always seemed to be a wave of warnings of disaster - the orchestra would walk out of rehearsal, this was a military building and filming was forbidden, you had to have special permission, etc. At first the warnings frightened us. I was concerned about my project being aborted and Laura was concerned about not getting footage of the orchestra for our documentary. After all, she had been hired for this purpose and had made some investments in equipment especially for this project. Out of frustration, Laura began slowly to videotape despite the warnings. She began during a break in rehearsal, filming individual players and setups. She let the camera secretly run from her carrying case during the rest of rehearsal. When we moved to the sound studio to begin recording on the following Monday, she asked the recording engineer if she could tape. He had no problem. In fact, when her battery died, one of the assistants in the studio gave her a new one!

    Of course, the recording studio also had barriers to overcome. Getting into the building was easy enough but entering the recording studio meant another three-man carrying crew to get me up and down the steps. It was however during the recording sessions that the piece began to become music. The three days of recording meant constantly rerecording section after section of the piece. In doing so, the conductor and I could begin to address the details in the music and the musicians became comfortable with the music. At the end we were able to make an excellent recording of the new piano concerto (Shadow of the Swan), my Prometheus Wept and the Chernobyl chant that was sung by an extraordinary bass.

    The day of the concert was Nov. 28th, Thanksgiving Day, at the Academic Philharmonia Maly Zal in memoriam Glinka. When I arrived for the dress rehearsal that morning (yes, more steps!) I was surprised to see a television crew there to tape the activities and interview Halida and me. Laura also was free to videotape at will. Afterwards while in the hotel room I received a telephone call from a correspondent from Isvestia in Moscow who wanted to know why I dedicated the piano concerto to the Kursk victims. Afterwards I decided to arrive at the concert hall about an hour early so I could relax a bit. Laura jokingly said that thered probably be a mob of reporters waiting for me. Well, guess what? There was a mob of reporters from five more television stations, cameras and all, ready to interview me starting from before the concert, during intermission and after the concert. The audience consisted of many naval officers as well as parents of many of the men who died in the Kursk tragedy. It was during the performance of the piano concerto that
    I realized that the audience was powerfully moved. Laura captured on videotape the teary faces of many during the performance. After the concert mothers of sons who had perished came to me with hugs, kisses and tears to thank me for remembering. One person said, You have given Russia a great present. It was perhaps the most moving experience I have ever encountered.

    The next morning, the clouds cleared and the sun shown brightly illuminating for the first time the brilliant colors of the city. It seemed that everyones attitude had also become brighter. The Russians rarely smile at you if they do not know you. I was told that this was a throwback to Soviet times. With the exception of a few people, most of the staff at the hotel was stony faced. After the concert, however, I began noticing acknowledging nods and smiles from staff. Even the dower-faced security men were friendly. It turned out that the Philharmonia/Kursk story had been running on six television channels from noon the day of the concert until noon the next day. Notice of the event had been seen by millions of people not only in St. Petersburg but also throughout Russia!

    Now Im back in the USA recovering from jet lag and feeling pretty good about being home again! After a few days of R & R, I will begin work on my viola and orchestra piece. And depending on receiving funding, Laura and I will be making a half-hour documentary about the Russian experience entitled Flight of the Swan, which will deal with disability awareness - facing and overcoming barriers to accomplish ones dreams.

  2. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    What a great story, thank you so much for posting this. I am sure, like me, others will love you for it.

    I think I will print it out and re-read it over a nice cup of tea also. :)
  3. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Passed Away Aug. 19, 2006

    Wonderful story. Brought back memories of Russia, too, where I lived for two years (in Moscow). It is not just in St. Petersburg that drivers assume they have the right of way and pedestrians had better be ready to jump fast. That seems standard in all of the big cities. I cannot imagine how one would cope in a wheelchair. I was always amazed that women pushing beby carriages managed to survive.
  4. bruzzes

    bruzzes Truthslayer

    For anyone who might be interested here is a couple links to his bio and Works.

    He is the only one of a few that contracted all 3 forms of Polio and survived. Since the age of 9 he has been disabled and until recently spent his whole life on crutches.

    It is a shame that a man with this talent cannot get a teaching job due to the prejudices against handicapped people.

    He has never taken any form of disability payments and has survived in even the worst economic times by copying music.

    I am quite proud of him.



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