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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Musical Evenings Foster Friendship




You can't get a subscription to one of Moscow's most established classical music venues because there is no set schedule. In fact, there are no tickets, no ushers - there is not even a stage.


But for all that, the audience members who have been listening to chamber music in Vulf Slobodkin's living room for 17 years would instantly choose an evening in his apartment over a ticket to the grandest concert hall in the country.


The difference, says Slobodkin, has as much to do with the audience as with the forum. Stranded among evenly-spaced strangers in a large auditorium, the listener is alone in his enjoyment. But when music is experienced in the company of friends packed into a small, cluttered room, it is elevated to a new level.


This idea dates back to 1982, when Slobodkin, 62, and his wife first invited their son's teenage friends over to listen to selections from their large collection of classical recordings. The musical evenings became an instant success.


"There is one recipe," said Slobodkin, a gray bearded, soft-spoken engineer who is not a musician himself. "You have to gather good people. Among adults there are some good people, and even many. But young people are always good."


One might say that these young people were particularly good, coming from a high school that specialized in mathematics and science. Bright young stars of the pre-perestroika intelligentsia, they spent their free time hiking, writing poetry and listening to music.


Their creative energy jumps off the pages of Slobodkin's guest book, where they scrawled jokes, poems, caricatures and even anonymous declarations of love beside the careful handwritten musical programs. In a log from 1988, the names Bach and Paganini are joined by those of Slobodkin and Ershler, the host's son and his friend who got into a scuffle, duly entered as "A Brawl: Song for Two Fools and the Considerable Surprise of the Auditorium."


Sometimes the evenings followed particular themes, accompanied by short lectures from Slobodkin. Once, the guests listened to performances of Bach's "Chaconne" by Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng and Georges Enesco on violin, Ferruccio Busoni on piano and Narciso Yepes on guitar. Afterward, the teenagers decreed that the piece henceforth be played only on violin or guitar.


In 1985, Slobodkin organized his first live concert, and has since hosted a number of well-known musicians, including cellist Alexander Knyazev and the Rakhmaninov Trio. His most recent concert in June featured a piano quintet composed of the section leaders of the Vivaldi Orchestra - squeezed into the room with over 20 listeners.


But the quality of music was never the only point. The important thing was always the people and the atmosphere they created. Slobodkin was known to cut short applause for the musicians and ask those he called the "founding fathers" to rise and be recognized themselves.


At the beginning of the 1990s, the core group began to disperse for jobs in Europe and the United States. But the tradition followed them abroad. Leonid Perlov moved to Boston to pursue a future in computer science, re-establishing the musical evenings there. Vinyl has given way to digital, but, at Perlov's musical evenings, friends in diaspora can close their eyes and feel at home.


As for Slobodkin, he continues his monthly concerts for the 20 or so who have stayed. The same polka-dotted tea cups are laid out on the buffet next to the same spread of green apples and cheese sandwiches. "I keep doing it because, first, it is a pleasure for me," he said. "Second, people expect it of me."


It is possible that the handful of original members who attend the concerts today treasure them primarily as relics of the past. But for their children and all other newcomers, the concerts are as unprecedented - and as marvelous - as ever.