Juri Sobolev and Mischa Husid directing a play

Mischa and Yuri were close friends. They had worked together as Mischa was director of a puppet theatre in Cheliabinsk. Yuri was first invited to visit Switzerland in his role as a painter, but he had obviously promised Mischa he would try to get him an invitation to come here too. This was before the fall of the iron curtain and at this time the only way a Russian citizen could leave the country (even for short periods) was with a formal invitation. We had got to know Yuri well and felt we could help by inviting Mischa. Mischa came and stayed two weeks with us in Eglisau. He brought with him a French text for me to work on: Un quart d’heure avec Dom Juan which was to be part of a big project on Don Juan which they were planning. Whereas Yuri was fluent in German, Mischa had just an energetic and (as well as I could judge) rather chaotic French. My French was even worse and so we never really communicated very well. Nevertheless he was very grateful for the opportunity to come abroad and promised to do the same for us. We visited him in 1989 (just before the fall of the Berlin Wall) and were treated like royalty. We were shown round Moscow (lodged in a house on the perifery of the city (for retired actors) with sauna and surrounded by a beautiful birch forest). We then travelled by train to St Peterburg (still called Leningrad) drinking tea from samovars! Here too, we were treated as VIPs: visited the Hermitage, ate caviar and drank vodka and I signed a contract for the composition of Puppet Desert which they pointed out contained a fee equal to that offered Schnittke.

In the years that followed Mischa and Yuri visited Switzerland almost every summer, several times by bus with the whole cast of their Don Juan (fortunately only Mischa and his girlfriend stayed under our roof!).

Then in 1996 we were invited to visit the school for actors in Pushkin (near St Petersburg) which Mischa and Juri had started. The Festival was called Kukart and in that year the theme was “The Tower of Babel”. I have recounted this visit under Un quart d’heure avec Dom Juan. Sad is that what specially remains in our mind after this visit is how everything had changed. We were no longer the greatly desired visitors from the west. Quite the opposite. We were housed in cheap student quarters, had to buy our own food and for a visit to the Hermatage in St Petersburg we had to pay about ten times the entrance fee for Russians. Nevertheless there were special moments, in particular our own performances which were well received.

Shortly afterwards we heard that Mischa had emmigrated to America and had become a Rabbi. This was especially hard for Yuri who had years earlier planned to emmigrate with Mischa to Israel, a plan they never managed to realise.

Works inspired by Yuri include: