Sharing the International Language of Music

Photo: Mike Peters

The choirs of Montclair State and the Moscow Conservatory performing with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at NJPAC.

In October 2008, 35 members of the Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory Student Chorus came to New Jersey for a week of sightseeing, social gatherings, rehearsals, and performances with the Montclair State University Chorale. It was a chance for many of the Montclair State students to return the welcome they had received when the University Singers had visited Russia earlier in the year.

Speaking at the first joint rehearsal of the choirs in the Alexander Kasser Theater, Heather Buchanan, director of choral activities at Montclair State, encouraged the students to get to know each other better. “Sure we have different backgrounds and different religious beliefs, but if you spend time with people, show them how much you care, and be interested in them, you’ll be amazed to know that you have the same hopes and dreams, and the same fears,” she told the students. “There’s a lot that can be accomplished through that kind of understanding.”

Buchanan’s counterpart, Stanislav Kalinin, dean of the Choral Conducting Department of the Moscow Conservatory and conductor of the Student Chorus, shared her views. “I would say that this trip has been very useful for our students in terms of learning more about your country, your culture, your traditions,” he said adding, “and it will be completely unforgettable.”

The visit by the Russian students was the latest development in the six-year partnership that the John J. Cali School of Music has enjoyed with the Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory. In addition to the student trips to Moscow and Montclair, the partnership also encompasses faculty exchanges, a semester study abroad program, and performance exchanges.

On this occasion, the performances included a joint concert at the Kasser Theater followed by three extraordinary performances of Carl Orff’s monumental work, Carmina Burana with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and soloists. Hailed by The Star-Ledger as “a revelatory event,” the performances were powerful and dramatic, and well deserving of the standing ovations they received.

The Carmina Burana performances were a fitting end to a musical and cultural exchange that brought Russian and American students together to learn about each other, and to work together to produce something memorable. “It was amazing to see how the students from Russia and Montclair State took to each other,” says Buchanan. “Sure there was a bit of awkwardness at first, but as we rehearsed and the music came together, so did they. By the end of the trip, everyone was hugging and exchanging e-mail addresses.”

An audio slide show of the choirs’ preparations leading up to the Carmina Burana performance may be viewed online at www.montclair.edu/images/soundslides/njso.