A private joke with the maestro

by Artist Development Fellow

Jessica Rucinski ’13, a resident of Pforzheimer House concentrating in Physics, was awarded an Artist Development Fellowship to attend the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara as a vocal pianist. She has taken piano lessons from the age of six and grew up accompanying and singing in choirs, developing an interest in choral directing. She has been a Choral Fellow of the Harvard University Choir, a member of the Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum Chamber Singers, Vice President of the Harvard Organ Society, and board member for both the Harvard Early Music Society and the Dunster House Opera Society. She has also served as the Assistant Music Director/Chorus Master for Harvard Dunster House Opera productions of The Marriage of Figaro (2012) and Die Fledermaus (2011). Rucinski plans to pursue a career as a vocal coach. This is her second blog post of the summer. Read her first post here.

The first time I played for Maestro Alexander Lazarev, I didn't mean to. I was watching the opera staging rehearsal he was conducting, and the pianist assigned to the rehearsal, taking advantage of my presence, stepped out to go to the bathroom. The bit I played wasn't demanding, but when I finished, I thought I heard Lazarev say it was good. Then I sat back down in the audience. He turned around and looked at me until I shrugged and smiled. I forget whether he smiled back.

I introduced myself the next day, reminding him that I'd played for a few minutes the day before. With a completely straight face he said, "It was unforgettable," and asked how long I would be playing that day. I wasn't.

I am so glad I studied opera accompanying under Fed [conductor of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, Federico Cortese], with all his passion-induced tantrums, and not somebody sweeter, because now no conductor can scare me. Lazarev certainly never offers praise or encouragement. It's a shock when he smiles, though I think I have an inside joke with him: that I'm only ever playing for a few minutes of rehearsal at a time. Once he asked me if I was coming back after I played for the first half of a run-through. I said I wasn't, and we smiled.

There were mixed opinions about the maestro. For a long time, nobody understood him. With a strange resemblance to Mad-Eye Moody, he said everything with the same intimidating straight face and thick accent. Did he seem rude because he could barely speak English, because Russians are rude, because Americans are too sugary, or none of the above? At meals, singers and pianists shared stories about their weird interactions with him.

Lazarev: "Your name is Marina?"

Maureen: "Maureen. Or 'Mo,' some people call me 'Mo'—"

Lazarev: "NO. This is too long, 'Mo.' Too long. Mauree-in."

At the end of an evening dress rehearsal, we said good night. I told him to sleep well, but he refused.

[Caption: Conductor Alexander Lazarev]

[Caption: A scene from Stravinsky's opera "The Rake's Progress."]