Lionel Reekie’s Russian Standing Ovation

lionelreekieWhile many New Zealanders were soaking up brilliant summer sunshine and enjoying a relaxing day at the beach, our own Lionel Reekie travelled to the land of vodka, ice and snow to star in concert in Novosibirsk, Russia’s third largest city.

Lionel had to pile on thick winter woollies in order to brave the early morning temperatures of minus 26 degrees before boarding a bus to travel to rehearsals on icy, snowbound roads.  For many, forty-two hours on a plane might have been a great excuse for sleep, but Lionel was so excited by this unique opportunity to perform in Russia, he couldn’t wait to get to rehearsals.

The professional orchestra members treated Lionel with huge regard and his lovely Russian-born wife Elena was only too happy to act as official interpreter.

Headed by respected conductor Rustam Dilmukhametov, the large concert orchestra included traditional instruments such as balalaikas for the main string section in addition to the more familiar flutes, oboes, piano, keyboards and percussion section.  As an honoured guest, Lionel was invited to join the orchestra members for a festive celebration lunch after their final rehearsal.  Everyone was in a very cheerful mood, even more so after a few bottles of vodka had been consumed.

The concert venue was at the prestigious Novosibirsk Philharmonia, a massive building with impressive colonnades. Lionel was delighted to see the concert programme had been well advertised.  Large posters featured both in and outside the building and were prominently displayed around the city.  When Lionel last visited Russia in 2011 to record his album From Russia with Love he was backed by the Siberian Festival Orchestra.  Rustam Dilmukhametov, also conductor of that orchestra, had been so impressed by Lionel that he invited him to return to Russia for a special New Year festival concert.  The sold-out concert, which included favourite songs from Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, was a great success, with the enthusiastic audience leaping to their feet at programme’s end demanding two encores.  Of course Lionel was only too happy to oblige, choosing to sing in Russian “Esli U Vas Netu Teti”, the theme from a very popular Russian film Irony of Fate.  Being a Kiwi performer had created quite a bit of interest, so immediately after the concert Lionel was interviewed by a reporter from the local radio station.

Before leaving Russia Lionel and Elena were excited to try ice fishing, so one of the local fishermen drove them out over the hard frozen shell of the Ob Sea.  This immense artificial lake was created in 1956 by a dam on the Ob River.  In summer it is an extremely popular holiday spot for Novosibirsk citizens but in the winter time the ice is more than a metre thick.  Fortunately it was a warm day for a Siberian winter – only minus 15 degrees.  A circular hole was drilled in the ice and a baited line was lowered to entice the fish.  Elena did eventually catch a carp but the fish that day were few and far between.  “Not to worry,” said Lionel, “The concert will always remain as the most thrilling part of my trip to Russia!”

Lionel was a recipient of the VAC‘s Pat McMinn Rising Star Award, in 2010 he received a VAC Scroll of Achievement and has been nominated for the Agnew Award for Excellence six times.

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