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If you ask the average person what comes to mind when they think of Yekaterinburg, they’ll probably say that it’s a highly polluted industrial city and the site where the Romanov family was executed.
But the truth is quite different. This town in the Urals has established itself as a cultural and artistic destination, where music and art curators put on the kind of programs that their colleagues in Moscow and St. Petersburg would envy.
Eurasia Music Festival
The Third International Eurasia Music Festival, which was held in October, was conceived of in 2011 as a way of exploring the musical influences between East and West — a natural niche, considering the city’s location on the virtual border between Europe and Asia. Held just three times so far, it has evolved into an arts event that pushes cultural boundaries and brings new meanings and energy to the word “dialogue.”
This time, the event showcased arts rarely seen in Russia, such as a performance of the members of the Sufi order Al-Tariqa Al-Gazoulia (Egypt); a solo recital of the French pianist Lucas Debargue, who created a sensation at the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition; or the concert of the European early music ensemble L’Arpeggiata, which creatively blends traditional Mediterranean songs and jazz improvisation. The festival’s musical landscape covers two continents and bridges centuries, as it skillfully fuses together works of Beethoven, Bartok, Ligeti, cutting-edge modern Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, and contemporary Russian composer Anton Batagov.
Through diversity, the festival’s concerts create a vital sense of unity between the audience and the multi-ethnic performing crowd. In this context, Eurasia becomes more than a geographic region. It is a cultural community where both the performers and the listeners belong in equal measure. Members of the Sufi order, who delivered a hypnotizing performance on Oct. 10 in the Sverdlovsk Philharmonic, were not professional musicians. The ensemble is made up of workers, doctors and writers, and the concert in Yekaterinburg was only their second public performance before a secular audience (the first one took place at the Salzburg Festspiele in July 2014). After the first half of the concert, many members of the audience found themselves nodding their heads along with the performers on stage. This ecstatic amateur performance underscored the spiritual power of music.
The festival offered up a wealth of new works. It opened on Oct. 6 with the world premiere of Anton Batagov’s “I See Your Dream, You See My Dream,” which was commissioned by the festival. Works of Toshio Hosokawa had their Russian premieres during the event. “What we see at this festival is way beyond the dialogue of styles or epochs. Rather, it is a dialogue between different worlds,” said Yekaterina Biryukova, classical music editor with the Colta.ru cultural magazine.
“Yekaterinburg is trying to build up a reputation as the capital of the Urals region, and this ambition is shared by both the residents and the authorities,” said Gyulara Sadykh-zade, the program director of the festival. “This means that the city is creating direct connections with the outside world, bypassing Moscow. Business-wise, Yekaterinburg is already a well-established Russian city that hosts the prestigious annual industrial exhibition INNOPROM. For the city, each international arts festival is a chance to launch a spiritual dialogue with the world — something that the city needs very much.”
Importantly, this vision is shared by the city’s business community. Andrei Bril, chairman of the board of Korin IT& Management holding and the authorized representative of the Guild of Managers and Developers in the Yekaterinburg and Sverdlovsk region, said the city’s superb and well-traveled Yekaterinburg Philharmonic Orchestra is a cultural brand in its own right, and international music festivals help promote this image.
“We are so proud of this orchestra,” Bril said. “One important question that the city of Yekaterinburg is facing today is its public reputation. It is high time that Yekaterinburg moves on from its “tsar-killing image” and develops a cultural brand that has much more to do with its current achievements, in addition to the history that we can be proud of. The philharmonic orchestra is brilliant and enthusiastic. It feels a bit like having a great sports team that plays in the Champions League.”
Securing funding for a festival with a large international component is a challenge, especially in the context of the plummeting ruble. “We have had to make cuts from the original program due to financial limitations. For example, in addition to the performance of Italy’s RAI orchestra, we had planned to bring in Poland’s Sinfonia Varsovia and the Lion Symphony Orchestra,” Sadykh-zade said. “It helps that the ensembles are willing to help us find solutions. For example, the Hong Kong Youth Orchestra and the members of the Sufi order came to the festival at their own expense, and RAI managed to link the performance in Yekaterinburg with performances in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which helped lower costs.”
Financial obstacles notwithstanding, Alexander Kolotursky, the director of Yekaterinburg Philharmonic, is nurturing a plan for the philharmonic’s next big step — a brand new modern concert hall. The Yekaterinburg Philharmonic Hall has around 600 seats, and the orchestra performs to full houses all year round. During the festival the demand for the tickets is much higher, which means that many people can’t get in. It is estimated that about 2.6 billion rubles is needed to build a new modern venue.
Importantly, the philharmonic has not planned to ask the Russian government for money. “We really see this project as a joint effort, and we decided to start with ourselves,” Kolotursky said. So before calling for a crowd-funding campaign, the philharmonic management, staff and musicians began collecting donations among themselves. They have already raised about 800,000 rubles.
“For culture to flourish, infrastructure is essential,” Sadykh-zade said. “Culture will never be spread more evenly around the country, if adequate infrastructure is not created.”
Over the years, the Yekaterinburg Philharmonic has raised a dedicated audience that many classical halls can only dream about: curious, sensitive, compassionate and enthusiastic. After every concert of the Eurasia festival, the main foyer was filled with people queuing up to thank the soloists, who always come out to meet the audience; that’s one of the festival’s traditions. And an audience that comes to listen and learn is as admirable as the festival itself.
y Olga de Kort, 10 October 2015
The highly anticipated concert of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra at the second day of the Eurasia Festival attracted much attention due to an opportunity to make acquaintance with an Italian musical landscape of the last hundred years. Not exactly a retrospective, the programme put a spotlight on three composers and featured two layers, characteristic for the Italian music and its development in the context of the European cultural tendencies before and after the Second World War.
A renowned specialist in contemporary and avant-garde music, the RAI Orchestra postponed the innovative groundbreaking compositions in favor of imaginative and colourful world of Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). With the first snow, covering the streets of Ekaterinburg, the Trittico Botticelliano (Botticelli Triptych, 1927) provided a mouthful of fresh air everybody needed. Inspired by Sandro Botticelli’s famous paintings Spring, The Adoration of the Magi’s and the Birth of Venus, the Italian pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov managed to find the same orchestral colours as the painter on his palette: transparent, light, serene. Within an instant the strings filled the concert hall with a chearful hubbub of bird chatterings announcing the awakening of nature in spring. The pastoral Adoration added a magic sphere, created by a heavenly sounds of celesta and harp and the variations on a Gregorian chant Veni, veni Emanuel. The colours of the third triptych painting came to life in delicate flowing musical lines shaped by Marco Angius’ gently and clear conducting patterns. With the same clarity the Italian conductor revealed the structure and pulsation of Respighi’s Gregorian Concerto(1921). As a real prior, he guided his ‘schola cantorum’ through an impressive and radiant musical ‘cathedral’, full of allusions to plainchant and the Easter sequence Victimae paschali.
The Czech violinist Josef Špaček, finalist of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2012, found easily his way in this concerto. His rich, lucid and graceful sound suited perfectly by a refined Respighi. Špaček was convincing in both the virtuosity and expressivity of his playing; he demonstrated a sense of musical phrasing, attention to details and the imperturbable concentration. The last ability is very necessary in Ekaterinburg where the audience seems simply to refuse to swich off mobile telephones. One of these devices performed its own concerto during one of Špaček’s solo passages. Fortunately it didn’t happened again during his virtuoso encore, a solo from Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata, Op.115.
The idyllic mood in the audience was shaken after a break when the RAI Orchestra stepped eighty years forward in time. Not everybody was prepared for such a time travel with a ‘consistent postmodernist’ Fausto Romitelli (1963-2004). His Dead City Radio (2003) portrays a destructive and hypnotical impact of mechanical media upon the conscience and state of mind of its listeners. The Italian composer mixed sounds freely, looking for a synthesis of struggling, sharp, crashing, discordant, conflicting and fighting with each other sounds. This extremely interesting composition was unfortunately unexpected by the most of public. The very reserved applause was more polite than affectionate.
After this first shock a rather different reception was reserved for the already 65-years old Composition No.1 (1949) by Bruno Maderna (1920-1973) which finally made a long postponed debut in Russia. Played in its own time it would undoubtedly make a statement as Dead City Radio just a few minutes ago. But after Romitelli, the dodecaphonic exercises of Maderna missed their effect and sounded quite dated. A structrucal expansion of ten sounds, their thematic development and by the composer himself indicated ‘metamorphoses’ as integration, synthesis, disintegration and dispertion, appeared as classical work which original innovative effects has changed in a acceptable, temperate and solid construction. Just a switch in a programme might have made Maderna a preparing step for Romitelli and ensured more appreciation for both Italian composers.
All possible emotions and comments were as a matter of fact tempered very ably by RAI Orchestra itself with a choice of its encore: a lyric Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. It sounded literally and figuratively as music to everybody’s ears and closed peacefully this thoroughly memorable Italian music evening.
By Olga de Kort, 08 October 2015
The geopolitical position of the Urals city Ekaterinburg, on the invisible but historically accepted border between Europa and Asia, makes this place an ideal setting for the Eurasia International Music Festival. With the Mediterranean theme of this year, the festival puts an extra accent on dialogue and unity of aims, dreams and hopes despite of (or even thanks to) cultural diversity.
The opening evening of the 3rd Festival was also the evening of three premières. For the first time the Russian public could hear the full version of Psyche(1888) by César Franck (1822-1890). This didactic story of much too curious Psyche fromThe Metamorphoses of Apuleius turned in the hands of Franck into a sensuous poem about universal human ideas and feelings of love, sorrow and forgiveness in the suggestive setting of the Garden of Eden. The illustrative and highly romantic music of the French composer presented a quite different Franck to those who knew him only as organist, church composer and Pater Seraphicus. The orchestra and choir, conducted by Dmitry Liss, created a peaceful, joyful sphere full of idyllic birdsongs, sweet dreams and ‘invisible lyres’. The supple orchestral sound was supported by equably balanced violins, emotionally intensive violoncelli and pure and accurate soli of wind instruments. The sounds of Franck’s symphonic poem looked like soaring softly on the wings of Zephyrs, the same who brought Psyche to the Gardens of Eros. In The Sufferings and Lament of Psyche the choir ensured a warm mixture with the strings, while still singing in well-articulated and understandable French. The ‘heavenly’ experience of the audience was unfortunately spoiled by the impatient ringing, completely earthy telephone just a second before the final jubilant choir entry. The triumphant Psyche with her everlasting love dreams couldn’t beat against the prosaic reality of our days.
The peace was restored by the dreams of the pianist and composer Anton Batagov in the world première of I see your dream, You see my dream for orchestra and piano. In his music as well as in his programme text Batagov focused on the similarities rather than differences: ‘People meet to be reflected in each other, to walk the same path together, to see the same dream together and to stop separating their dreams from reality’. He reached his idea musically by creating an overwhelming sound field of intensive, profound, from the depths of a growing orchestral sound cloud. Starting with just one tone played by piano and two central positioned harps Batagov built up a breathing, interacting, communicative music world where every instrument and musician added its personal sound, rhythm, heartbeat to a common, pure and stable creation.
Another première, this time the European one, was The Isle is Full of Noises by the Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. This work, quite Shakespearian in its dramatical intensity and thematical intention, was commissioned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra just two years ago. Inspired by The Tempest, in particular the two famous extracts about the dreams, noises, sounds and a humming of ‘a thousand twangling instruments,’ Hatsis worked out his own sound representation of Eden and the Creation.
The Isle is full of not just the noises but the musical metaphors, recognisable reminiscences of and stylistical references to the music of Scriabin, Debussy, Mahler, Sibelius and Mendelssohn. Sound transformations, significant participation of the wind instruments group with a determinating tuba solo, in combination with beautiful, breathing melodic lines, made this contemporary composition an exciting and accessible listening experience. It formed a perfect close to the first festival concert programme summarizing all the differences, sounds, timbres, melodies and harmonies of all styles and periods, mixed up in a melting pot of cultural, musical and philosofic traditions.
The first evening of the Eurasia Festival dissolved immediately all invisible and symbolic borders with a successful escape to dreams. Dreams with their possibility to become a reality. Dreams laying at the very beginning of reality. Dreams of the creation and gardens of Eden, regardless whether they are heaven or human-made ones.
The Russian pianist and composer Anton Batagov is one of the musicians who prefer to communicate with their listeners not only behind the instrument but also in front of it. He is not afraid to take a microphone and address his audience. He writes his own programme notes, makes his public a part of his world, confides his thoughts with it, shares life lessons and experiences.
After twelve years of studio work, the former prize-winner of the 1986 International Tchaikovsky Competition and the artistic director of the Alternativa Contemporary Music Festival (1989-1996) plays what he really wants to play. His programmes are conceptual, with no occasional compositions or just public favourites. The recital at the 3rd Eurasia Festival encouraged to discover the sounds of the invisible worlds behind the music notes. TheTwelve Preludes from theDebussy’s first book gave Batagov a possibility to play with a full range of intriguing images: landscapes, sounds, fragrances, colours and memories. Colourful, technically and dynamically impeccable, breathing and well-articulated, the Preludes held no secrets for the pianist. Within a few minutes he managed to create a trustful atmoshere in the concert hall and had the full attention of all his listeners. Until the telephone rang. Every festival concert the public was asked to swith off all mobile phones, but every evening there were two or three listeners who stayed deaf to this request. This time a mobile phone rang during theInterrupted Serenade. The title of this Debussy’s prelude was perhaps never interpreted so literally.
While introducing his piano cycle Invisible lands, Anton Batagov invited everybody to listen unprejudiced and open-minded. With his post-minimalist suite he didn’t intend to discover a new reality, but just to hear the existing ones. Therefore he needed noticeably fewer notes than Debussy. Based on the bells and their dynamic range variety, Invisible lands painted four fascinating sound landscapes where every tone was vivid and three-dimensional, eager to form a new harmony or a rhythmic pattern. Distant reverberation, growing radiant and swinging bells waves, deep, peaceful and finally overwhelming chimes, all these bells invited and promised of lands and sounds yet to be discoverd. The sudden stillness was deafening and let all further possibilities open. One had to determine whether the calls of invisible lands reached him.
Sorry, this entry is only available in Rus.