Lighting Up the White Nights

Lighting Up the White Nights

With three stages at its disposal, this year’s Stars of the White Nights festival will be the busiest ever.

Published: May 22, 2013 (Issue # 1760)

Yannis Bourinas

The 21st annual Stars of the White Nights music festival opens on Friday and will be held for the first time at all three Mariinsky theater venues. The long-awaited stage of Mariinsky II will finally be christened with its first premiere, up-and-coming young director, Vasily Barkhatov, will open the festival with his rendition of Dargomyzhsky’s opera “Rusalka”

“This fabulous facility is a triumph of engineering; the Mariinsky’s new stage is far ahead of any theatrical venue in Russia,” said Barkhatov. “Its diverse capacities are almost intimidating.”

Established by the Mariinsky’s indefatigable artistic director, Valery Gergiev, the annual festival has evolved into the country’s premiere classical music event and has brought an array of high-caliber international stars like tenor Placido Domingo, soprano Renee Fleming and violinist Leonidas Kavakos to St. Petersburg.

During its 20-year history, the event has successfully become a window to the world of opera and ballet for a loyal audiences and local music fans, as well as a drawcard for visitors to St. Petersburg.

Shortly after the opening of the festival, the respected London Symphony Orchestra will take the Mariinsky II stage under the baton of Gergiev on May 26. The musicians will perform Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique” while Alexander Toradze will play Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto No. 2.”

In June, the Mariinsky’s new stage will also play host to a complete performance of Wagner’s tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” undoubtedly Gergiev’s most ambitious project. “Das Rheingold” will be performed on June 11, followed by “Die Walkure” on June 13. The tetralogy continues on June 15 with “Siegfried” and concludes with with the final part, “Gotterdammerung,” on June 16.

Natasha Razina

Michel Fokine’s ‘In the Middle’ will be performed as part of the Mariinsky Theater’s Stars of the White Nights festival.

Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin, a long-term ally of Gergiev and the Mariinsky, will see the world premiere of his new opera “The Lefthander” at the Mariinsky II on June 26 and July 27 and 28. The opera was commissioned specifically for the new stage.

In addition to the heavy-hitting opera program, this year’s event will have a strong focus on instrumentalists. The list of four not-to-be-missed performers to see this year include: Austrian violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter (July 20, Mariinsky Concert Hall), Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder (July 11 and 12, Mariinsky Concert Hall), British pianist Christian Blackshaw (July 15, Mariinsky Concert Hall) and Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos (June 24, 25 and 26, Mariinsky Concert Hall).

Buchbinder will treat St. Petersburg audiences to two concerts in which he will perform all of Beethoven’s piano concertos.

Buchbinder has gained worldwide recognition for his Beethoven interpretations, both in the concert hall and on record. He has released more than 100 recordings, including the complete Beethoven sonatas, as well as works by Brahms, Mozart and Haydn. His recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas released on CD and the complete Beethoven piano concertos performed with the Vienna Philharmonic on DVD were both recorded live.

Buchbinder’s personal connection with Beethoven dates back decades to when, as a five-year-old prodigy, he performed Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto at the world-renowned Musikverein concert hall in Vienna. “I still do not know exactly how I managed it; the whole experience felt like something completely surreal,” he said, speaking to The St. Petersburg Times.

At the same tender age, he became the youngest student in history to be accepted into Vienna’s prestigious music academy — The Vienna Musik Hochschule. Today, the distinguished musician performs alongside some of the world’s leading orchestras including: Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France and London Philharmonic Orchestra. He also collaborates with the most sought-after conductors including; Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel and Kurt Masur. Since 2007, the musician has been the artistic director of his own classical music festival, Grafenegg Music Festival, in Grafenegg, Austria.

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Vadim Repin, who began to play the violin at the age of 5, is slated to perform.

Most biographies about Buchbinder, refer to his core repertoire as being so-called Viennese classics — a term that usually encompasses Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. However, “Viennese classics” is a phrase that Buchbinder thoroughly detests.

“I cannot stand this utterly stupid phrase,” he said. “It is absolutely nonsensical and was seemingly invented by some kind of music bureaucrat who researches music but fails to see the heart and soul behind the score. They have simply assigned the title of ‘classic’ composers to these very different composers and put them in a group.”

For Buchbinder, the core element of Mozart’s art is drama, while the music of Beethoven is synonymous with lyricism and delicacy. “Beethoven is the only composer in the history of music who writes an Espressivo followed by a Tempo — it’s in his ‘Piano Sonata, Op. 109.’ This is the epitome of Romantic playing,” he said.

Buchbinder’s compatriot, the distinguished violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, will perform an evening of compositions by Lutoslawski. At the age of 14, Mutter became one of conductor Herbert von Karajan’s students. Lacking in confidence and reluctant to go to the audition, she could not believe that Karajan, one of classical music’s living legends at the time, decided to give her his time and support.

“I kept contact with maestro Karajan until his last days, and my precious recollections about these meetings still make a great source of vital energy for me,” Mutter told the St. Petersburg Times. “His every word and gesture had a meaning and his ability to communicate knew no boundaries. He was a truly modest person — I wanted to bring myself up along the same lines.”

For Mutter, the violin is also the world’s most beautiful instrument.

Natasha Razina

Uliana Lopatkina in ‘Swan Lake.’

“Its sound is the closest to the human voice, and its expressive palette knows no limitations,” she said. “When I touch the instrument I feel absolute freedom. I would compare myself to a sculptor, with the only difference being that I carve out sound pictures. The sound would blossom like a flower, it can swiftly change shades or lose volume, and it is in my power to expand it again, breathe life into it — it only takes another touch.”

The virtuoso Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, a regular at renowned international festivals, including the Salzburg Festival, the BBC Proms and the Ravenna Festival, will perform Beethoven’s violin sonatas on three consecutive evenings at the Mariinsky Concert Hall.

The winner of the 1991 Gramophone Award for the first-ever recording of the original version of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Kavakos will perform a stunningly diverse repertoire spanning centuries. His programs feature works by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Stravinsky, Schubert, Ravel, Sibelius, Debussy and George Enescu as well as cutting edge contemporary composers.

“As a musician, one has to be aware of all the different eras and aesthetics of the music which is why it is beneficial for a performer not to confine themselves to one or two ‘key’ composers,” said Kavakos. “I seek to expand my horizons and enrich my expressive possibilities as widely as humanly possible.”

Such an approach helps the performer to understand the legacy of the music of the past he said “We have to imagine that all the great 20th century composers were looking back to their predecessors — Mozart, Haydn or any other composer — and use these reflections when trying to make a step forward.”

“I see classical music legacy as a living organism, a chain, and no part of this chain should be ignored. In other words, if I play a contemporary piece, it gives me a deeper insight into the works of Ravel or Debussy. The same would be fair for the works of, say, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky,” he said.

Indeed, speaking of Tchaikovsky, ballet audiences will not be deprived of their share of festival fun. The talented contemporary choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky, will premiere a new ballet set to the music of Shostakovich at the Mariinsky II on July 4. The Netherlands Dance Theater will perform two shows on the original Mariinsky stage on July 3 and 4, and the Israeli dance company Batsheva will perform on June 9 and 10 — also at the historic venue.

With three stages at its disposal, the Mariinsky this year will be able to give ballet a greater presence. Most performances — largely the company’s trademark productions, such as “Swan Lake” (May 24, 25 and June 6), “Le Corsaire” (July 10 and 11), “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” (May 31, July 6) and “The Sleeping Beauty” (June 11) — will all be performed on the historic stage.

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