How did you get involved with the Moscow Oratorio?
I came to live here as a student originally in the 1980s. Then I worked for PanAm for three years and returned to the States. Iâve been living in Russia since 1997, mostly working for airlines. When I got my present job, somebody in my office by chance had a spare ticket to go to a Christmas concert of the Moscow Oratorio. They were singing the Messiah, which is something I absolutely love. I called the number on the ticket and ever since then Iâve been involved with them.
What do you do for the Moscow Oratorio apart from sing in it?
Right now Iâm the administrator, and Iâm involved in finding sponsors, organising halls, and hiring an orchestra if we have enough sponsorship. Itâs a semi-professional organisation and it takes a lot of organising work.
Is it something thatâs done for money or charity?
Its main goal is to create beautiful music, and to donate any money remaining after meeting expenses to charity. In seasons where we have procured a lot of funding, we have been able to donate substantial sums to worthwhile causes. In past years we have had large sponsors such as Deutsche bank and Nestle, which were able to cover most of our costs, thereby raising a surplus for donations. Currently companies are cutting back on sponsorship, and we rely mostly on ticket sales.
What kind of people participate; are they mostly expats?
Itâs a mixture because expats are always coming and going. Embassy staff is usually only here for a couple of years, for example. We need to have a core of regular singers who are here all the time, and they are Russians, who are mostly very qualified, as they have graduated from musical schools, ensuring that their standard is pretty high. We do not have auditions, and we welcome male singers, particularly tenors â the most endangered species in any choral group.
The ratio of expats to Russians is hard to calculate, because it changes all the time. Generally figures go up towards Christmas because many more expats want to join the choir to sing a Christmas repertoire. I remember a Swiss woman and a German who could not read music, but who wanted to sing so much they memorised it!
You mentioned Handleâs Messiah. What are your most popular pieces of music that you perform?
We try to do different things each year although we concentrate on western music. We prefer 17th or 18th century music, and we try to work with an orchestra or an organist, depending on funding. Recently we found a wonderful composer, Viernes. I had never heard of him, and his music is really sublime.
Where are the rehearsals held?
Right now at the Maimonides institute near Novokuznetsky metro stop, because our conductor Alexander Tsaliuk teaches in the music department there. We hold concerts twice a year, one in December and one in the spring. Then we have a long rehearsal period that gives people time to learn the music, so we start in September for the December concert. We rehearse on Wednesdays apart for the last few weeks before the concerts, when we rehearse on Saturdays as well.
Do people have to pay anything?
Yes, we have to charge people 5,000 roubles a year at the moment to cover the cost of renting a room, hiring an accompanist, and the conductor. If anybody really wants to sing and they canât pay the dues, we are always ready to make a deal for example they can do some administration work in lieu of payment.