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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Happy Singers Enjoy Brahms, Suppers

For MTOratorio members Anne Julian, Carol Sorrenti and Maria Saulus sharing a lighter moment at the dacha on Saturday.
Last Saturday, at the American Embassy's Near Dacha in an icy and still Serebryany Bor, the Moscow Oratorio Society's amateur choir held one of its biannual parties for current and prospective members. About 30 guests arrived to find a long table laden with cheeses and cakes, the dacha's lights turned down low and a crackling fire sending a golden glow across the large living room.

Guests were offered brandy to warm up, then mingled near the buffet or reclined on couches in the darkened main room. During the group photograph near the end of the party, the choir's conductor, Sasha Tsalyuk, renowned for his sense of humor, told jokes and did impressions to peals of laughter.

The Oratorio Society was founded in 1993 by a pair of British journalists who wanted to perform Handel's "Messiah" at Christmas, a tradition from their communities at home. In 1994, Tsalyuk, a professional conductor who also leads the Moscow Male Jewish Cappella choir, joined the Oratorio. He has taught the group music ranging from Mozart to Bernstein, and led them in concerts at venues including the Conservatory Great Hall and the Bolshoi Theater's White Foyer.

"They're amateurs, but of rather good quality," Tsalyuk said. "They're very well trained."

He stressed that it was choir members who decided to sing pieces as complicated as Robert Russell Bennett's and Robert L. Shaw's "The Many Moods of Christmas," performed in December.

"They choose very ambitious projects, very serious music. I have great respect for them. These people drive me crazy trying to learn such difficult pieces," Tsalyuk said with a laugh. He provides members with taped recordings of their parts, so they can memorize their pieces even if they cannot read music.

Carol Sorrenti, the choir's administrator, originally from the United States, also emphasized that the Oratorio was intended for amateurs. "It doesn't have to be for someone with an immense amount of music experience," she said. "It's for someone who sang as a child, for example, and enjoyed it."

The Oratorio rehearses on Wednesdays at the Linguistic Gymnasium on Novinsky Bulvar, near the Smolenskaya metro station. Rehearsals are in English and Russian, and attract as many native Russian speakers as expats. There are two concerts per year, the proceeds from which go to charities administered by the International Women's Club.

"The choir is great because when you come to Moscow, you know 50 people right away," said Bettina Tuinstra, a choir member from the Netherlands.

One of Tuinstra's favorite moments with the choir was singing Christmas carols at the Khimki Mega Mall in December. "It was of course a little weird for a classical choir to be singing in a mall, with the conductor in a suit," she said. "We were singing seriously, while some guy was walking round in a Santa Claus suit selling hamburgers."

The Oratorio is currently rehearsing for its spring concert in May, when it will perform Brahms' "Liebeslieder Walzer."

Anne Julian, also from the United States, reflected that attending the choir lifted her mood, and said she now found herself racing to rehearsals. "When I was stationed in Hong Kong, I learned that the Chinese characters for music and happiness are very similar," she said.

"Here, I've found that to be very true."

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