The Final Day
by Kit Lorentz
On the morning of our last day, diverse groups fanned out to diverse activities and sites — various museums, shopping downtown or in the flea market, or just a contemplative walk in the woods near the hotel. Some weary ones slept in and took a breather from the rigors of successive days of brisk long walks, long times standing in Church service, relentless sightseeing and late-night revels around town or in the hotel’s “Garage Bar”.
In the late afternoon everyone gathered at the Spaso House, in the old Arbat district. This elegant 1913 NeoClassical mansion, originally built by a prominent Russian industrialist, has been the American Ambassador’s residence since 1933 and has been the venue of many an extravagant ambassadorial fête. Stepan, during his Fulbright scholarship, had been in communication with several of the staff including Ambassador John Huntsman, and had been given a significant State Department grant to help fund this YRC Russian Tour. The YRC was invited by Mr. Huntsman to sing a concert there this evening. (As it turned out, he was himself in America for the births of several grandchildren, so the affair was hosted by Deputy Chief of Mission Anthony Godfrey.)
By 6:30, some 300 dignitaries, friends and family had arrived for a red-carpet reception in the Chandelier Room. Among the guests appeared George Litton, President of the Yale Russian Club at the time of the founding of the YRC. He was quickly surrounded by numerous Muscovites with whom he had become friendly over the years. Moscow’s Yale Alumni Club President was also present and came into our final few minutes of warm-up to introduce himself as a former YRC singer!
The concert itself was a truly spirited performance, with perfect ensemble, pin-point musicality and soloists achieving their best performances of the tour. The hall was packed with a wonderfully responsive audience, which gave standing ovations to Bill Teska for his soulful, could-not-sound-more-Russian solos in Ach Ty Steppe and Ekh Darogi. There was another standing ovation for the entire Chorus at the end, to which we responded with a final encore of Kalinka, in which Michael LoPiano outdid his usual crowning solo by singing it to a lady in the audience, kneeling to her and taking her hand to dance the final refrain.
Everyone then repaired to the Chandelier Room again for a post-concert dessert with more enthusiastic mingling and a few more songs.
Finally, we made the now-familiar 40-minute trek — 15-minute walk/ 20-minute Metro ride/ 5-minute walk — back to the hotel. (I will miss the 30,000 steps/day we have racked up when I return to my relatively sedentary suburban life!) Many lingered in the lobby for final goodbyes, then drifted off to bed — except for the die-hard younger crew who opened the “Garage Bar” for final revels.
As a final comment, this tour compares favorably in my experience with the legendary 1968 East Europe tour, though much smaller in geographic and temporal scope. An excellent singing group was forged under the clear and sensitive musical direction of Stepan.
A true sister/brotherhood was likewise created, including people of all ages and backgrounds — everyone in this group is wicked smart and interesting in his/her own way! The group took care of its own, different people stepping up to the plate as needed to help an individual or a process — nobody got left behind in any sense. It has been an amazing two weeks, now stamped indelibly into the life-memories of 30-plus people!
Mnogaya l’eta! Mnogaya l’eta! Mnogaya l’eta!