Tour of the Baltics 2019: Russian Challenges and Triumphs

For the final stop on our 2019 Tour of the Baltics, the orchestra made the journey to St. Petersburg, Russia. The border crossing into the country turned out to be a bit of an adventure, but the triumph of the final concert made it all worthwhile in the end. Co-principal oboist Oliver Talukder wrote about the orchestra’s time in Russia. Though a short 2-day visit, the city and people left an indelible mark on everyone.

Though short-lived, my time in St. Petersburg was definitely unforgettable. Ranging from stunning architecture to the beautiful Hermitage museum and our bittersweet final moments together, it was a visit I will remember forever.

A blog post about our Russian experience isn’t complete without mentioning the border crossing from Estonia that has already become infamous among those of us who experienced it. After a few-hour bus ride through Estonia, we arrived at the border. Agents checked our passports and customs paperwork, and we cheered (quietly!) to celebrate our two hours passage across the border. What we didn’t know is that the experience had just begun!

Marina, our tour guide, pointed out the river that splits Estonia and Russia and the fortresses on either side hoisting their respective flags. We traveled about 100 feet to the Russian checkpoint where our beloved Operations Manager Kaytie and Executive Director Susie negotiated with the Russian officials about a customs issue with our instruments. As it turned out, each one needed to be catalogued with very vague declaration forms. On the bright side, we were finally allowed to enter the customs office and get our passports stamped yet again so we could enter Russia.

It was a long waiting game to declare instruments for all 80 members of the orchestra. I was surrounded by amazing people, though, and the hours were tolerable through the overflowing optimism that St. Petersburg was going to be amazing. After our day dedicated to the border crossing, we finally arrived at the hotel and were able to sleep and recharge for the next and final day of Tour.

We started our time in St. Petersburg with a short bus tour that gave us a quick picture of the city. We traveled on Nevsky Prospekt, the busiest street in the city (similar to our Michigan Avenue here in Chicago—only A LOT bigger). Our tour guide, Olga, showed us some of the more famous buildings and monuments, including St. Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Issac’s Cathedral, and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. The city is known for its distinctive dome-shaped architecture and we definitely witnessed our fair share of it!

St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace was the official residence of the Russian emperors from 1732 to 1917, but today it houses the Hermitage Museum—the second largest art museum in the world. On our visit, we entered into a giant room filled with artwork and gilded chandeliers. Olga quickly explained that Catherine the Great—one of the first Russian royals to live in the palace—hated that room because of the Baroque style that she considered outdated for the time. Nevertheless, the room was stunning to us!

We traveled from room to room, each used for different occasions—one for political affairs, and others that the palace opened to the public back in the day. We then visited Catherine the Great’s vast personal art collection, which had an entire section of the palace dedicated to it. We saw Da Vinci’s Madonna Litta (it was a lot smaller than I expected!), Michelangelo’s unfinished Crouching Boy, and a collection of Rembrandts.

After the Hermitage visit, we made our way to the State Academic Capella for our final tour concert. Seeing how tired the orchestra was from the long day before, Maestro Tinkham reminded us the reason we came on this trip: not to highlight us as a group, but to share the wonderful music of these composers. He stressed that we only get to do this once and we needed to “transcend.”

Despite our slight sleep deprivation and previous 8 days of travel, we gave it our all and did transcend. In fact, we played one of our best concerts of the entire trip. The audience absolutely loved us and wanted us to play more even after our THREE encore pieces. After our performance was over, the tears and hugs began.

It’s crazy how after only nine days, you can develop such a strong bond with both amazing musicians and even more amazing people. We’ll always hold these memories close to our hearts and cherish them for a lifetime. 



Oliver Talukder is co-principal oboist in Symphony Orchestra and a veteran member of the CYSO's Social Media Team. Oliver has played with CYSO for four years and studies with Xiomara Mass. He is rising senior at Maine East High School and enjoys singing opera in his spare time.

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