European Diary

Aere Perennius

“Who?”  This was said in a tone of voice that could only be described as doubtful.  I was on the phone with an Italian friend in London, explaining that I could not call him back later that evening because I was off to a concert.  “It’s Gergiev, Valery Gergiev.  Don’t you know?  He’s the most famous conductor in the world.”  The silence on the other end was polite, but still incredulous.  “He is the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra!” I yelled in desperation.  It got me nowhere.  To an Italian, a musician cannot be world-famous unless his name ends in a vowel.

Gergiev brought his “Orchestra del Teatro Mariinsky,” as the handbill said, to Palermo’s Teatro Massimo for an evening of Russian music.  Glinka, Borodin, Mussorgsky—you know the kind.  It is very, very loud, and above all things inedible the Italian south loves noise.  I remember being awakened at an ungodly hour in the center of Rome by a band of ruddy-faced garbage men outside, jumping on some metal debris with the insouciance of rock stars on heroin.  It gave the word racket a whole new meaning.

The concert was a huge success, especially the bit where Prince Igor urged his men “to seek the blue sea,” and the chorus exploded in a quadruple “Hail,...

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