on 07 April 2000

Nikitina Breaks Bad Festival Trend With ’’Olympia’’

You don’’t need to know a lot about the state of culture in contemporary Russia to understand that most musical festivals here invariably have two depressing things in common: They usually lack a concept, and they are chronically underfunded.

The exceptions are rare, only serving to confirm the general trend.

Only two Russian musical festivals - Valery Gergiev’’s "Stars of the White Nights" and Irina Nikitina’’s "Musical Olympia" - were invited to join the World Federation of International Music Festivals.

Irina Nikitina spoke to The St. Petersburg Times this week on the ups and downs of Russian musical festivals, during her two-day visit to the northern capital, as she prepares for the Fifth Musical Olympia Festival running May 28 through June 4.

Nikitina disagrees with the way the word festival is perceived in Russia. "A festival is not a framework to contain a few concerts which just happen to be held at the time," she said. "Nor is it an excuse for you to organize a couple of your own or your orchestra’’s recitals. If there is no idea linking the concerts, there is no festival."

She also suggested that if regular concert practice in St. Petersburg was more diverse, there would never have been such a large number of festivals. "Basically, the root is in the absence of any nationwide cultural, if not ideological, program," Nikitina said.

"Over the last decade, the cultural gap between Russia and the rest of the world has become so huge that the names of musical celebrities who perform to packed venues in Europe and America are unfamiliar to Russian audiences, making it risky for producers to bring the stars over," she said.

According to Nikitina, herself a renowned pianist, Russia has lost a whole generation of national heroes, or rather the country has failed to come up with new ones. "The big names are still the same they were 10 years ago, whether in music, theater or cinematography. No new names appeared after Spivakov and Mikhalkov."

Nikitina’’s brainchild, the Musical Olympia is meant to introduce younger talent, or more precisely, winners of prestigious international musical competitions throughout the world. Nikitina herself visits the finals of the contests, so that her opinion is based on live impressions rather than results on paper.

Sometimes, her intuition conflicts with the jurors’’ verdict. Thus, she recalls preferring the silver medal winner of the contest in Paris over the gold winner. "The winner was a virtuoso performer, but the emotional impression I received from listening to the other musician was overwhelming, I almost cried," Nikitina said. "And I invited him, though this meant financial difficulties for my festival."

Wife of Michael Haefiger, director of the Lucerne International Festival, Nikitina said that her husband never interferes in her Musical Olympia activities, just as she tries to stay away from his. "Of course, I meet many prominent musicians, conductors, managers, and of course use all the chances I get to promote Russian culture. But we both think it wouldn’’t be ethically correct to use each other’’s names."

Although it involves much additional money, Nikitina always attracts Western managers to the Musical Olympia to help young talents’’ careers, and believes this is one of the festival’’s major purposes. She still remembers her peculiar frustration after winning international contests. "It is an illusion that simply winning a contest can open the doors for you. No. It is a myth. All agents and managers have their stars to take care of, and no one gives you any time," she said, adding that every year Musical Olympia helps several musicians to sign contracts for a world tour or series of concerts.

The festival’’s program and exact list of participants is usually complete a year in advance, as the regular Western practice goes. But sometimes Nikitina reserves places for winners of the March Montserrat Caballe contest and a few others as highly acclaimed.

Nikitina is proud that her festival is the unique chance for Russian public to encounter the best of the world’’s youngest talent. She tries to keep the range of musical instruments as wide as possible, including saxophones. "If we wait for, say, the Philharmonia to invite them over, years will pass, the musicians will settle their tour schedules and begin to ask for an enormous fee. We bring them here now."

Nikitina never performs at the festivals and other events she organizes. "I haven’’t seen a single person do it well. You can’’t go on stage and perform to your best if you’’ve just finished arranging accommodation, fees, negotiations, etc. I am well aware of this. A musician should have a conscience," she said.


Author: Galina Stolyarova  Edition: The St. Petersburg Times   Date: 07.04.2000