Is Russia now doing well, economically? Here’s a quote which suggests that it is. It is from classical music commentator Norman Lebrecht, writing with his usual over-the-topness about the young Russian recently installed as conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko. According to Lebrecht, he is doing very well. Here is what Petrenko says about his recent Russian past.
Petrenko’s grandparents endured the siege of Leningrad; his parents grew up under communism. He is among the last to have enjoyed the elitist benefits of the Soviet education system, getting fast-tracked through specialist schools after being spotted singing in a choir from the age of four. ‘People around me were being trained to direct choruses in Siberia,’ he remembers. ‘There were 200 professional choirs in the country, now there are nine. Those times are over. Parents don’t want their kids to be musicians any more. They make more money as bricklayers, not to say bankers.’
Whatever your opinion is about people being paid to sing in choruses – mine is that if audiences won’t pay, such singers shouldn’t be paid – it surely says something about the Russian economy that now you can make proper money laying bricks. “Banking” could mean anything, from proper banking to legalised thievery. Merely getting rich being a construction worker would be similarly ambiguous, economically speaking. But there is something reassuring mundane about bricklaying, suggestive of real people wanting to hire you for good reasons, to build buildings that actually make sense.
I remember vividly what Soviet bricklaying used to be like. I attended a Libertarian jamboree in Tallinn, Estonia, in about 1990, and I recall seeing the wall around the local Soviet military base (I think it must have been). It was by far the most badly constructed wall I have ever seen, then or since, and had I not seen it, I wonder if I could even conceive of such constructional badness. Try to imagine the most spectacularly incompetent bricklaying that you can, and then halve its quality. Then halve it again. That’s approximately half as bad as this brick “laying” was. It looked as if it had been done by six year olds, who had been alternating that with drinking Vodka.
Russian walls are now, I surmise, getting a lot better. Which I agree may not be wholly good news.