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By John Helmer in Moscow

When Tony de Almeida, the musicial director of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, telephoned in January to say I’d be sure to enjoy his next concert at the Conservatoire, he was doing what Tony did naturally and energetically. He was promoting the orchestra and the music he believed in to those he knew shared his passion for Russian music. Tony made the music; I loved to listen.

When the concert announcement changed and Tony’s name was placed by another conductor, I sent a message to his home at St. Remy de Provence, near Marseilles, hoping there was no mischance. When he didn’t respond, I began to suspect there had been. I didn’t hear from him again. Tony died on Tuesday. He was 69.

I knew how fragile his health was. Sitting at dusk on a balcony overlooking Moscow’s golden domes, as the swifts raced and dived in the August air, Tony described how he was living on borrowed time. Only he didn’t say it that way, and I don’t know if that’s what he thought.

Tony had convictions on most every subject or person we ever talked about. I don’t know if he had a conviction about his own mortality. He was too energetic, too preoccupied with raising money for the orchestra, negotiating better terms for the recording contracts, obtaining gifts of fresh instruments, more salubrious rehearsal space, better scores, etc., etc.

It was in the et cetera I saw Tony spend much of his energy. And also in the concert-hall. I used to see him, sitting on the bench in the conductor’s room backstage, covered in perspiration, drained of energy, pleased at the performance, but almost too tired to speak in the courtly mid-Atlantic accent that masked where Tony had come from or where he called home.

I know he liked returning to Provence, to his family in Florida, to New York, to Paris. There was hardly a place where Tony, as a boy or as a man, hadn’t visited and about which he hadn’t a tale to tell. But the simple fact was that home was where the music was. Moscow’s players and audiences gave him a sense of place in this city, unalloyed by the patronising affectation of other musicians, Russian and foreign, who perform here. Tony knew them all and exercised his barbed wit on many.

Tony knew that all homes need energy to make them worth coming back to. He’d be disappoionted if, in his absence, there isn’t enough life to keep the fires burning when the Moscow Symphony Orchestra plays. He’d think he’d played his part. And he did. He’d point with those fine fingers of his, and say this is the bar where we come in.

(The Moscow Tribune)

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