A Tribulations of a Curator / 2

St. James’ Church, Piccadilly,

 I was soon instructed to expect a taxi that would take me to a venue the BBC had secured, and where I would meet up with a pianist and a singer who had been contracted over the phone to perform the Anthem. An hour later I was standing in St James’ Church, Piccadilly, surrounded by punters milling around among the thousands of Charity Christmas cards that were on display in the porch. Even though the atmosphere was vibrant, I wondered about the appropriateness of a Soviet Anthem being rehearsed and performed in this most lovely old English church with a palpable historical weight.
     The BBC crew arrived just as I entered the church where the pianist was already waiting. He was thrilled to be first to perform this unknown page by Prokofiev who happened to be one of his favourite composers. He had already rehearsed the piece a few times when the Russian tenor turned up in a sweatshirt, track-suit trousers and trainers: “Sorry about the clothes” he exclaimed, “but the agency caught me on the mobile just as I was doing my Christmas shopping... So, you want me to sing the National Anthem?” The slightly ironical tone turned to bemusement when he realised that the National Anthem he was required to sing was by Prokofiev: “But Sergei Sergeevich never wrote an Anthem!” he exclaimed. “Oh yes, he did and here it is, fresh from his archive!” The singer was even more puzzled when he heard that there was a Prokofiev Archive in London. We then started rehearsing and more than once, I had to demonstrate that what the performers interpreted as mistakes in the score were in fact the result of Prokofiev’s usual angular approach to harmony and melody. The recording was eventually filmed and we parted. Come the evening, I – and the handful of friends and colleagues I had managed to warn – were eagerly awaiting the programme, video tapes on standby. But more surprises awaited us!
     After the presenter’s brief introduction of the various anthems Russia had used over the twentieth century, a familiar voice was heard, commenting on the significance of a new anthem for the new Russia. This was my colleague, Marina Frolova-Walker, speaking from her Cambridge college. The short-lived caption, however, identified her as “NoŽlle Mann, of the Serge Prokofiev Archive.” A few bars of the anthem (the least secure) were then heard, followed by my own voice. I finally appeared briefly, mentioning an elusive archive which the producer failed to identify. This time, there was no caption, and I remained the anonymous person in the programme.
     The long-awaited premiŤre of Prokofiev’s National Anthem had turned out to be no more than a fleeting moment on the Newsnight programme of 6 December 2000, a passing item of no consequence. Prokofiev’s anthem will have to wait until 2003 to receive the first performance it deserves. In the meantime, however, here is the opening page of the manuscript for you to enjoy.   

NoŽlle Mann

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