On 28 July the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra open their three-week season at the Royal Opera House in London, Great Britain.
The Mariinsky Theatre’s tours to London have become a welcome tradition, with the company presenting its finest productions at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. The Mariinsky Ballet was last in London three years ago. The current tour features a diverse repertoire for the St Petersburg company. The leader in terms of the number of performances (nine in total) will be the Mariinsky Ballet’s “calling card” – its classical production of Swan Lake with several different casts. The tour programme also includes ballets based on works by William Shakespeare, the birth of whom four and a half centuries ago is being celebrated this year: the tour opens on 28 July with Leonid Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet starring Diana Vishneva and Vladimir Shklyarov in the lead roles, while also featured in the programme is George Balanchine’s full-length ballet A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The theatre’s recent premiere of Frederick Ashton’s ballet Marguerite and Armand will be presented to London audiences with Ulyana Lopatkina and Timur Askerov and Diana Vishneva and Konstantin Zverev in the title roles. This season, the Mariinsky Theatre has adopted two works by the great British choreographer Frederick Ashton – the three-act Sylvia and the one-act ballet Marguerite and Armand. “It is a tremendous responsibility to dance the choreography of any genius in his own country,” explains Yuri Fateyev, Acting Director of the Mariinsky Ballet.
London will also be treated to Michel Fokine’s The Firebird, George Balanchine’s Apollo and Alexei Ratmansky’s ballets Cinderella and Concerto DSCH, the latter of which entered the company’s repertoire last season.
In addition, exacting British audiences will see the performance potential of the company. The tour programme features both leading soloists, many of whom are well-known throughout the world, as well as young performers. The playbill for the London tour lists the names of Diana Vishneva, Ulyana Lopatkina, Viktoria Tereshkina, Alina Somova, Anastasia Matvienko, Oxana Skorik, Kristina Shapran who recently joined the company, Timur Askerov, Yevgeny Ivanchenko, Andrei Yermakov, Konstantin Zverev, Alexander Sergeyev, Filipp Stepin, Yuri Smekalov and Vladimir Shklyarov. At the Royal Opera House where the dancer began his career as a member of the corps de ballet, “Russian Brit” Xander Parish – after five years with the St Petersburg company where he is now a soloist – will be performing lead roles in Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and Apollo. Determinedly assimilating the classical repertoire, Kimin Kim will perform a lead role in Swan Lake as well as the role of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, the pas de deux in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the trio in Concerto DSCH. This season, British audiences will see Yulia Stepanova (as Odette-Odile and the Firebird) and Nadezhda Batoeva (whose Cinderella brings the tour to a close on 16 August) take their first steps as principal dancers. Taking part in the tour is Renata Shakirova, a talented student from the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet which, according to Yuri Fateyev, highlights the strong bond between the academy and the theatre. Renata Shakirova has already appeared in various roles in Mariinsky Theatre productions, and in London she will be performing in the ballets Apollo and Concerto DSCH.
As part of the tour programme the Mariinsky Theatre will also be showcasing its “top star” – the corps de ballet, the skill, co-ordination and stylistic unity of which are highly praised by audiences throughout the world. In line with tradition, the Mariinsky Ballet’s tour is being managed by impresarios Victor and Lilian Hochhauser.
The evening features Valery Gergiev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, of which the maestro was invited to become Principal Conductor in 2004 following a triumphant performance of a series of all of Sergei Prokofiev’s symphonies to commemorate one century since the illustrious British orchestra was formed. The programme for the first half of the evening includes Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 1 in D Minor. The soloist will be internationally renowned British pianist Barry Douglas, one of the most respected interpreters of the composer’s music whose acclaim began with his victory at the VIII International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1986.
The second half of the evening features Leoš Janáček’s famous Glagolitic Mass, which is unique for the use of church Slavonic instead of Latin (it is thus also known as the “Slavonic Mass”). The work, which is filled with light and rejoicing at Nature and the greatness of Man (Janáček said that the walls of his cathedral were gigantic mountains, cupolas were the heavens, candles were tall silver firs over which stars shine, the carpeting was the green meadows and the scent of incense was the scent of the forest), will be performed by soloists of the Mariinsky Opera Mlada Khudoley, Yulia Matochkina, Mikhail Vekua and Yuri Vorobiev.
Mariinsky Theatre artistes Olga Esina, Yulia Stepanova, Xander Parish and Pavel Bubelnikov have been nominated for the Taglioni Prize.
The European ballet award the Taglioni Prize is a key project founded in January 2014 by the foundation of outstanding dancer Vladimir Malakhov. This new award aims to highlight the artistic successes of dancers, choreographers, ballet companies and their managers, conductors and designers each season. The winners in thirteen categories will be selected by an independent jury comprising critics and journalists from seven European nations. Russia is represented in the judging committee by St Petersburg ballet critic Natalia Zozulina.
In each award category the jury has chosen three nominees, while the winners – in the critics’ opinion the finest representatives and most significant events in ballet in Europe – are to be announced on 27 September 2014 in Berlin.
Candidates in the shortlist for the Taglioni Prize representing the Mariinsky Theatre include Olga Esina as “Best Ballerina”, Yulia Stepanova as “Best Young Ballerina”, Xander Parish as “Best Young Male Dancer” and Pavel Bubelnikov as “Best Ballet Conductor”.
On Sunday 20 July maestro Gergiev will be conducting the World Orchestra for Peace for the fourth time as part of a series of BBC Proms concerts held annually at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
The World Orchestra for Peace was founded by British conductor Sir Georg Solti in 1995 to commemorate fifty years since the founding of the UN. In 1997, following Solti’s death, Valery Gergiev was appointed Director of the ensemble. The World Orchestra for Peace consists of musicians of more than forty various ensembles, many of whom are concert masters and leaders in their own orchestras. The World Orchestra for Peace comes together only a few times a year under special circumstances.
This time the main focus of the evening and the concert programme will be the commemoration of one hundred and fifty years since the birth of Richard Strauss, to whom the World Orchestra for Peace headed by maestro Gergiev will dedicate their performance of a fantaisie symphonique based on themes from the opera Die Frau ohne Schatten (in 2009 Valery Gergiev was Musical Director of the first and to date the only Russian production of this incredibly demanding opera at the Mariinsky Theatre, while in 2013 the Mariinsky label released a recording of Die Frau ohne Schatten in DVD and Blu-ray formats).
Another important event at the concert will come with the European premiere of a work commissioned by the World Orchestra for Peace from British composer Roxanna Panufnik (the daughter of Polish-UK émigré composer Sir Andrzej Panufnik). The work, the world premiere of which was performed by the World Orchestra for Peace under the baton of Valery Gergiev in 2008 in Israel, is called Three Paths to Peace and embodies the composer’s aim for a universal and global composition style; based on the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac, it combines the music traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The evening will conclude with a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, Tragische.
On Wednesday 17 July the Mariinsky Opera, Chorus and Orchestra will be performing in Riga under the baton of Valery Gergiev.
The Latvian National Opera will be hosting a performance of Rodion Shchedrin’s opera The Enchanted Wanderer for three soloists, chorus and orchestra after the eponymous story by Nikolai Leskov, staged by Alexei Stepanyuk. Riga will be the eighth city where the Mariinsky Theatre has mounted this production on tour; the opera has previously been performed in Moscow, Vilnius, Helsinki, Rotterdam, Paris, Stockholm and Kazan. Over the last six years, the opera has been performed in St Petersburg more than twenty times. In 2010 the Mariinsky label released an audio recording of the opera, which received the Choc award from respected French music magazine Classica and which was named “Opera Choice of the Month” by major British classical music publication BBC Music Magazine.
Valery Gergiev is continuing his Stravinsky series in the Bavarian capital; on 8 and 9 July the maestro will be conducting the Münchner Philharmoniker at the Gasteig centre. It is well known that in January 2013 the city authorities in Munich, on the initiative of the orchestra’s musicians, unanimously resolved to appoint Valery Gergiev the new head of the Münchner Philharmoniker, concluding a contract with him until 2020. Maestro Gergiev will succeed Lorin Maazel, whose tenure comes to a close in 2015.
The history of collaboration between Valery Gergiev and the Münchner Philharmoniker is rich in major cultural events, one of the most important being the performance of a series of every symphony by Dmitry Shostakovich in the 2011-2012 season. The series of concerts of music by Stravinsky, which began in December 2013 and continued in May 2014, marked the next stage in this artistic partnership and the focus of the current season’s concert programme. The programmes for the two evenings feature key works from various periods of the composer’s life – the dazzling orchestral fantasy Feu d’artifice (1904) in which Stravinsky appears as a worthy heir to his teacher Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and a contemporary of Debussy, the neo-classical opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927) and the dodecaphonic ballet Agon (1957). The concert will see the participation of leading Mariinsky Opera soloists Ekaterina Semenchuk, Sergei Semishkur, Alexander Timchenko, Yevgeny Nikitin and Mikhail Petrenko together with the chorus of the Münchner Philharmoniker.
Respected international music publications have lavished praise on discs released by the Mariinsky Theatre’s recording label. A recording of Shostakovich’s Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies released on the Mariinsky label on 2 June this year received five stars – the highest recommendation of leading British magazine Classical Music:
“Viscerally exciting performances of three of Shostakovich’s best-known symphonies which hold their own in a very crowded field. The Fourth and Sixth Symphonies especially brood impressively, coming blazingly to life when adrenaline is called for. Gergiev excels in this repertoire, and this is shaping up to be the most vital Shostakovich cycle of the 21st century.” (Guy Weatherall)
The recording released in February this year of Tchaikovsky’s piano concerti by the Mariinsky Orchestra under the baton of Valery Gergiev with Denis Matsuev performing the piano solo was noted by the reviewer of Australia’s Limelight Magazine:
“If, like Tchaikovsky, you love his second concerto more than his first you will be knocked out by Denis Matsuev’s performance, but particularly by the musicians of the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev. Matsuev is on familiar territory with both works, having won the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1998, and with one recording of the first already under his belt. The ‘Siberian bear’ shows here that he is more than just an athletic powerhouse of a pianist. After the adrenaline rush of the second concerto’s opening Allegro brillante the Andante, with its lovely weaving melody, first stated by violin and cello before being taken up by the soloist, is a pure delight. This is not to say that Matsuev fails in any way with the first – this is a fine reading of an enormously popular work – but the interplay between performers in this lovely fourteen-or-so-minutes is a highlight. Gergiev arranges his richly emotional material with characteristic aplomb. Tempi are hard to fault, and of course the orchestra’s sumptuous sound is the perfect fit for Tchaikovsky.” (Steve Moffatt)
On 23 July at the Mariinsky-II a ballet evening will mark 110 years since the birth of George Balanchine. The programme for the evening includes the ballets Serenade, Apollo and Symphony in C.
Today, his choreography is danced everywhere and playbills of theatres throughout the world are adorned with the phrase “produced in accordance with the Balanchine Style® and Balanchine Technique® service standards”. Indeed, fame and glory came to the choreographer during his own lifetime.
And, it would appear, everything he achieved he achieved with ease. In his youth – while he was a dancer starting out at the Mariinsky Theatre – he wished to seek out new forms in dance and established the Youth Ballet group from recent graduates of the Theatre School, staging his very first productions for them. In the mid 1920s destiny would take him from cold and hungry Petrograd to join Diaghilev’s successful European company. And then it was kind enough to throw him into the path of Lincoln Kirstein who invited him to come and enchant New York. Dancers were needed across the ocean – Balanchine trained them and established both a school and an amazing company with its own unique repertoire. And he won the heart of not just America but the rest of the world as well.
Having been educated to preserve and being a witness of the development of Fyodor Lopukhov’s ideas about symphonism and choreography, Balanchine was drawn by the nature of pure dance subjected to the laws of development of musical form. While many dancers and choreographers were convinced that classical dance had exhausted its possibilities, it was with ease that Balanchine demonstrated its vitality and gave it new life, rejecting superfluous emotionality and psychology that overshadowed the crystal purity of form. Even those who, not accepting the plot-less ballet, criticised Balanchine “for formalism” were won over by the light breath of his art in which there were no human passions behind the dance, there was just the music, its rhythm and structure determining the development of the dance image.
The desire for lightness could be sensed in everything – in the rejection of plots in ballets and the creation of dance that corresponds only to the music; in the preference of minimalism in costumes and the rejection of sets (with rare exceptions). All of Balanchine’s productions are imbued with the light of the love of life; there is a parody of variety show girls in Western Symphony, there is competitiveness among the professional dancers in Agon and there is the romanticism of youth and the mysterious wonder of a moonlit night in the refined choreographic structures of Serenade. Preferring not to have a plot, the choreographer nevertheless created ballets with plots with the same effortlessness, brilliantly condensing in one act all the peripeteia of the tale in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the libretto of Swan Lake. The desire for lightness (meaning memories here) also came with a rejection of the “extra” letters of a cumbersome name: from Balanchivadze to Balanchine and then simply to Mr B.
Freedom in principal in art from everything that is not essential, a love of life and “lightness of life” – these are the things, it would appear, that draw the portrait of a practical American with the broad smile of the eternal optimist and the faithful companion of success. But Balanchine never counted on its favour and never relied on anything other than his own profession. Unlike practical Americans, Balanchine did not care about the future of his productions and he didn’t worry about them being danced by several generations. And they are danced, people take pride in them, people dream of them... Yet the choreographer did not consider himself an American – he said that by blood he was Georgian, by culture he was Russian and by nationality he was a Petersburger.
On 11 July Paavo Järvi, a representative of the Järvi conducting dynasty, one of the most acclaimed conductors of the present day and recipient of a Grammy award and the Echo Klassik prize in the category “Best Conductor of 2007”, will be conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra.
– What was your personal “path” to Mahler?
– I was first introduced to Mahler as a young boy in Estonia – I remember listening to his Fourth Symphony with my father. Also, the first symphony I ever conducted was Mahler’s Symphony No 5 for a concert in Denmark. It was really after this that I fell in love with his music.
– If you were to judge Mahler only by his music how would you judge Mahler as a man?
– If I only knew Mahler from his music, I would say that he has a huge heart and a deep connection with the soul and humanity. It’s clear from his music that he has really experienced life, particularly the darker, tragic side of life.
– If we think of Mahler’s funeral marches and the vivid line that flows through all his work, then arguably you could say the composer was a pessimist, regardless even of his constant musical searches for an “exit” from his tragic conflict with reality, his endeavour to embody in music a heroic ideal, and regardless of the life-affirming finale of the Seventh Symphony. Do you agree? If not, why?
– It’s almost impossible and too simplistic to label Mahler as an optimist or pessimist. He has so much depth and in reality there is no clear line between an optimist or pessimist. To me, pessimism describes someone who is negative and that has given up on life. Mahler was hopeful – he believed in love. The funeral marches, ländlers, drinking songs, fanfares etc. are used by Mahler to transport us to the state of mind he wants us to be in. His symphonies reflect all sides of life and beyond...
– Ivan Ivanovich Sollertinsky, a very famous personality in the cultural life of Leningrad before the war, once said that “After Mahler we will see no true symphonists in Europe.” Do you agree with that?
– Yes, certainly Mahler’s Ninth marks the end of the Germanic symphonic tradition. Following from this there are still the great symphonic works of Shostakovich, Prokofiev and other 20th century composers, who were representative of a new symphonic world and way. Shostakovich was, by the way, a huge fan of Mahler, but somehow during this time the symphony was re-born in a different formation.
– What do you consider to be your main achievement in your career as a conductor?
– It’s difficult for me to be able to view myself in this way – it is a question for other people to answer and name my main achievements.
Speaking with Svetlana Nikitina
From 3 to 6 July artists of the Mariinsky Opera, Chorus and Orchestra will be performing under Valery Gergiev at the Baden-Baden Musikfestspiele. From the 18th century this famous German spa town was a place for taking the waters as well as cultural pilgrimage for the Russian aristocracy. The unique hot springs that cure all manner of ailments have made Baden-Baden’s spa seasons legendary throughout the world and transformed the city into the summer capital of Europe. In the late 20th century the old railway station made way for the Festspielhaus – the only theatre in Germany that operates without State subsidies and one of the most important contemporary theatre and concert venues anywhere in Europe today. Since the time of its opening in 1998, the Mariinsky Theatre has presented diverse theatre and symphony music programmes here on an annual basis.
This time the Mariinsky Theatre performers under maestro Gergiev will be presenting Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Don Carlo, staged by the Italian director Giorgio Barberio Corsetti and premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in 2012. The principal roles will be performed by lead Mariinsky Opera soloists Ildar Abdrazakov and Yevgeny Nikitin (Filippo II), Viktoria Yastrebova and Anna Markarova (Élisabeth de Valois), Vladislav Sulimsky (Rodrigo) and Sergei Aleksashkin and Mikhail Petrenko (the Grand Inquisitor). The role of Don Carlo will be sung by renowned South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee who has performed this role at numerous famous opera houses throughout the world. The role of Princess Eboli will be sung by mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova who often appears at the Mariinsky Theatre. The performances will take place on Thursday 3 July and Saturday 5 July.
On Friday 4 July soprano Viktoria Yastrebova, mezzo-soprano Yulia Matochkina, tenor Sergei Semishkur, bass Mikhail Petrenko, chorus artists and the Mariinsky Orchestra will be performing Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem under the baton of Valery Gergiev.
On Sunday 6 July the Mariinsky Orchestra under maestro Gergiev will be appearing in the concert A Russian Summer Evening. The concert programme consists exclusively of works by Russian composers and includes Sergei Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto (soloist – Daniil Trifonov) and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio italien and Fifth Symphony.