Thursday, 5 April 2012

April 2012: Moscow Easter Festival of Music

In April all Christians will be celebrating Easter. This year some confessions mark it on the 8th, some – on the 15th of April. Traditionally, the day of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection shall be accompanied by bell chimes and glorious music that was written especially for this feast.

In line with tradition, on that day Moscow launches the Easter festival which was first conceived 10 years ago by world-famous conductor Valeri Gergiyev. The scale of the festival is fully consonant with the Maestro’s personal temperament: in three weeks – over a hundred concerts of choral, symphonic, chamber, bell music. The festival draws into its orbit dozens of cities across Russia and the CIS countries.

Occupying a central place in the programmes are performances of the orchestra of the Maryinsky theatre under the baton of Valeri Gergiyev. This time the Maestro laid emphasis on the art of Sergei Prokofiev. He intends to present to the public all of his symphonies and piano concerts, and with this in mind invited some truly renowned soloists.

The Moscow Easter festival continues until May 9th and ends with a grand-scale public concert at Park Pobedy. We shall make a point of sharing its highlights with you in one of our May editions of “Music and Musicians”.

Meanwhile we continue leafing through the pages of our April calendar and recall well-known Russian opera singer Maria Maksakova. On April 8th its 110 years since her birth.
Maria Maksakova was born on the Volga, in the town of Astrakhan. Her first music impressions are from there… Her main vocal mentor was her future husband, singer Maximilian Maksakov. Together with him the young Maria set out to conquer Moscow, and despite skeptical predictions from experts, conquer it she did. She became a lead soloist of the country’s principal theatre – the Bolshoi, where for a quarter of a century she was responsible for the lead parts.

Strictly speaking, Maksakova did not possess too big a voice, neither was it all that well honed…But what she possessed in abundance was natural acting, excellent taste and stage charm – all this unfailingly drew audiences to her. In a country that was shuttered away from the rest of the world – those were Stalin’s times – some of her interpretations were even deemed outstanding. The singer collected an impressive assortment of top awards – the prestigious Stalin prizes. Thus, she received one for her appearance in the part of Marina Mnishek in the opera by Modeste Mussorgsky “Boris Godunov”.

These days the opera scene is being actively conquered by Maria Maksakova’s granddaughter, who incidentally, is her exact namesake. With nothing but very modest vocal abilities, she nonetheless has already ascended to the position of lead soloist of the celebrated Maryinsky theatre. Evil rumor has it that her career is aided by her being a member of the “United Russia” Party, and a State Duma Deputy.

Continuing the list of jubilee names of the month is the Moscow Chamber Choir. On April 23 its 40 years since its first concert. All these years standing at  the helm has been the brilliant choirmaster Vladimir Minin. He put all of his heart and soul into the choir, ensuring that the outfit’s sound is easily recognized and one-of-a-kind.

The Minin Choir – and that is how the outfit is popularly referred to – is a kind of ensemble of soloists, where a unique harmony of one whole is born of a multi-timbral texture of voices.

The Moscow chamber choir has toured all over Europe and America, frequently appearing in Japan and Korea, singing in China. Everywhere its performances end with rapturous applause. Like a seasoned captain, Vladimir Minin has been steering his outfit bypassing dangerous reefs and sandbars, strictly on course towards the shores of international acclaim.

In the past 40 years the “Minins”, just like the rest of the country, have survived more than a few stormy upheavals and hardships. But the flexible, perfectly trained choir, equally comfortable with all manner of styles and genres, has invariably remained highly sought-after, an uncompromising paragon of the highest standards in its art.

The Moscow Chamber choir, which has reached its 40th anniversary still under the baton of Vladimir Minin.

And the final date for today. On April 25 we mark the 105th birth anniversary of composer Vasiliy Soloviev-Sedoi, author of a countless number of song hits.

Son of a yard sweeper and a maid, in his youth Vasiliy taught himself to play the piano and in the mornings played live accompaniment during gymnastics sessions on the radio. He received an education already in his mature years. At the conservatory he wrote the kind of music that was required of him in line with the study plan: sonatas, suites and symphonies. While what he was really dreaming of was to write a really good song – the kind that the entire country would sing.

The song eventually became the composer’s principal genre. Vasiliy Soloviev-Sedoi’s first masterpieces emerged, paradoxically, in the years of WWII. It would seem that Russia, fighting the ominous invasion of Hitler’s armies, would hardly have time for music. But in actual fact that was precisely when good and kind songs, often generously injected with humor by the skilled author, became very much sought-after, eventually becoming a part of the national culture.

Vasiliy Soloviev-Sedoi lived a beautiful and highly successful life, literally bathing in the rays of fame and popularity. His songs could be heard on TV and radio every day, performed by the most acclaimed soloists, choirs and ensembles. Today, over 30 years since his death, his songs are still very much a part of our lives, they are not just our history: they are the very heart and soul of Russia.
This article by Olga Fyodorova first appeared in The Voice of Russia, April 1, 2012.

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