Peter Dyson was born in Huddersfield in 1949. He moved to St Petersburg in 1996. What else do you need to know? Oh, the bit in the middle: an idyllic childhood in the Yorkshire Dales and school years in exile in Wales, a drop out from teacher training and a career in the Home Office: home, family and friends in half a lifetime in an Essex village?
No, the interesting bit was Monday and Thursday afternoons. 'They were young and enthusiastic. I was middle-aged and enthusiastic and we waited in great expectation for our teacher to walk into the room. Our teaching room had two rows of broken chairs, flaking paint but two serviceable grand pianos and the faces of understanding composers smiled down on us from their original oil portraits on the walls. Rimsky-Korsakov sat elegant and relaxed in a large chair in the middle of the wall but then this was his Conservatory.
We were Tishchenko's class and there were not enough chairs for all of us, but we would crowd round the piano anyway. Whose turn would it be today to turn over the pages of the score and stand next to him at the piano stool, just a chair piled up with spare seats to give a more comfortable height? The sense of history was awesome, for once he too had stood turning the pages for Shostakovich, who in turn had stood for his teacher. Today, as a surprise, we had borrowed the score of Boris Ivanovich's Fifth Symphony from the library and I had brought the now deleted Olympia recording in because we were going to analyse it for him to show how clever we were in uncovering its secrets.
The listening arrangements were comical at times. One of us would take the recording up to the Conservatory studio control room and then on return Tishchenko would plug in the detachable phone handset into the socket on the wall by the double doors that kept the sounds of the corridor out and the sound of the music in. Often we would get the wrong movement or so much volume that we would be blasted out by the mammoth Soviet speakers that stood in the corner. After several conversations we would get started at last.
Lessons followed a time-honoured pattern. First, listening to a score with interjected discussion of its features. Sometimes an ex-pupil would join us too to show a new work in hand, and then it was our turn. One by one he went round the class. What have you brought to show today? You could not help but know why some of us skipped Thursday's lesson. What can you write in two days? I was lucky, I was on the post graduate diploma course, but the rest of them were getting a full quota of history, theory and instrumental teaching too and, besides, I could always cheat by bringing out something I had written before I went to Russia. Boris's lessons were full of anecdotes and stories, with points underlined by examples from and endless list of composers from Bach or Monteverdi though to Mahler and. of course, Shostakovich.
As a class you could not have had a more stylistically diverse group from bombastic fireworks to gently measured interruptions of silence. Whilst we tended to be just kind to each other, Boris's comments were always well judged and helpful. Sometimes, listening to a cluttered cascade of technical brilliance, my mind would wander back to how lucky had been to find myself in this place. I had gone to St Petersburg in 1995 on a return "thank you" from the folk ensemble Ivoushka whom I had befriended on their tour of East Anglia. Everyday I wallowed in St Petersburg's cultural scene.
One afternoon I was taken to the Academy of Culture to meet the head of the composition department. I played him some tapes and showed some scores, but he totally threw me when he asked me what I wanted. At the age of 46 I had not thought of studying again. I had given up the idea of any formal training when I failed to get into the Royal Academy as a composer in 1969. BBC Radio Three had 'become my teacher. The question was repeated the following day in the House of Composers and I was unsettled by it. At a concert the following evening, I was shown a list of St Petersburg composers and asked whose work I knew. My finger fell easily on Shostakovich's favourite pupil Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko. My companion disappeared during the interval. as she put it, to make a few phone calls, and met me afterwards with the news that I had to prepare five pieces to audition with Tishchenko for a place in the Conservatory. I was speechless. I shall remember that afternoon in his flat for the rest of my life, for afterwards there was no turning back. I was offered my place the following day, to start there and then. I pleaded for the indulgence of a year to sort out all those things that keep us from leaping off into the unknown, but in the end I did not need it. I arrived at five minutes to May Day 1996.
List of choral works
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