How to Define the Russian Musical Spirit

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Last week, American pianist, Van Cliburn celebrated his 77th birthday. This came just weeks after the Russians gave Cliburn a warm welcome when he returned to their country to serve as honorary juror in the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He was a true hero "returning home" 53 years after winning the country’s premiere musical competition at the height of the Cold War.

I cried reading an article in the New York Times about it. You see, there’s something about the Russian spirit that gets me every time.

I’ll never forget my first night in Moscow hearing Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony as I had never heard it before. It was an all-Russian orchestra playing at home. The musicians were unbelievably focused and committed to the performance. I didn’t just cry a little, I cried buckets. Some in my group thought that I just was tired from the long trip. But one Russian gentleman with us was making his first trip back to his homeland since he left for America many years before. He too was in tears.

Then came Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades at the Bolshoi and a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden at the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg. And, a beautiful recital given by pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja. I savored every musical moment. Without a doubt, the experience left an indelible impression on my soul.

And so, I ask you, what is it about the Russian spirit? Can it actually be described in words? Or should we just let the music do the talking?