on 01 January 2003

Irina Nikitina: Portrait

She has style, she has look, and her charm is fascinating. Her smile is disarming and powerful: it can conquer everyone. She looks like a Dresden figurine, but there is steel beneath the porcelain. Looking in her eyes one can feel she is a strong-willed and decisive person. Being a child she dreamed of becoming a well-known performer, but her father, famous cellist Professor Anatoly Nikitin did not believe the girl could become a prominent musician. "And that helped me", says Irina, "I knew I could do it, make my dreams come true, and I finally did it. From my early childhood I was trying to prove myself out".

As a musician she started to participate in competitions and concerts in Russia and abroad, and won numerous prizes. In 1986 Irina got the Special Prize at the Geneva International Competition, where she was noticed by the Manager of the Youth Musical Festival Michael Haefliger. He was captivated by her performance and decided to invite her to Switzerland. But that was not an easy task. At that time Soviet bureaucratic system was at power. As Michael couldn’’t directly get in touch with Irina, he called and wrote official letters to Gosconcert in order to get in touch with her. But the answers from Gosconcert were rather standard: either she was sick, or she was on tour, or her whereabouts were unknown. Despite all that Michael did not give up hope on meeting her one day, and his insistence worked out: Irina finally came to Davos. In 1987 after she won the Grand Prix at the international contest in Paris, Irina got engagements for tours and performances, and made numerous records with Melody, Denon, Sony, TOSHIBA/EMI, King and other labels.

"I need to be inspired. I was always like that. In other words: while I have obstacles to surmount, while I have to fight, I go for it. As soon as I achieve my goal I lose any further interest in it and start looking for something else". Being a recognized pianist Irina decided to study harpsichord in Prague. At the meantime Michael Haefliger proposed marriage to Irina and she accepted it. He moved from Germany to Switzerland and since then they live in Lucerne.

In 1992 Irina established a foundation to assist the musical school for gifted children in St. Petersburg which she once graduated from. Charity was always an essential part of her nature. She extended her charitable activities in Russia supporting the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, and the Rimskiy-Korsakov Memorial Museum. In 1995 Irina switched to something completely new for her. She established the Musical Olympus Foundation and launched the annual "Musical Olympus in St. Petersburg" festival. The young talented musicians - prize-winners of different international contests from all around the world were invited to take part in the festival.
Year 1999 was the 100th anniversary of death of the great Austrian composer Johann Strauss. The "King of Waltz" had worked and performed in St. Petersburg for more than ten years, and this fact gave impetus for Irina to organize a magnificent Remembering Johann Strauss Ball to revive the age-old traditions of charity and international cultural links in the contemporary Russia. It was a great idea. But that plan could be carried out with good financial support only. "People told me I’’m crazy, and I’’d better not start that", says Irina. "But nevertheless I started it with strong intention to make it come true," She went to Vienna to discuss her idea with businessmen and politicians: Dr.Zilk, Mr. Wallner, Mr. Nettig and Mr. Haeupl, the mayor of the city. She managed to convince them in the importance of the Strauss ball in Russia, and they agreed to help and till now they continue to support the ball in St. Petersburg.

In 1999 the first Johann Strauss Ball took place in the Marble Hall of the Russian Ethnography Museum. All the profit made from this ball was donated for the restoration of the musical hall in Pavlovsk, where Johann Strauss once conducted concerts. The ball was a great success. At that time Russia was different from now. After revolutions, destructive wars and 70 years of Soviet Power Russia was making its first steps to regain its position in the world community as the bridge between the East and the Western Europe.

Subsequent balls took place in Tsarskoe Selo, this year it was held in Peterhof, the Romanov family’’s summer palace on the Gulf of Finland. The palaces and parks in Peterhof were designed by Peter the Great as an in imitation of Versailles and Schonbrunn. This year the 7-th Musical Olympus festival took place in the Great Hall of St. Petersburg Philharmonia from May 27th to June 4th. The festival was opened by a performance of Evelyn Glennie, world renown "shaman" of percussion. Among participants were Sasha and Misha Manz, very talented twin brothers from Switzerland, cellist Sol Gabetta, pianists Filippo Gamba and Jean Dube, and other young prize-winners of the most prestigious international music competitions.

Irina is at the centre of attention of journalists from Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, The New York Times, and Russian weekly magazines Itogi, Profil, Career - as well as their colleagues from TV (St. Petersburg, Russia, Cultura, NTV showed programs about the events organized by Irina Nikitina). Irina is always full of energy and plans. She launches a new project named "Express-line St. Petersburg - Moscow" and organizes concerts of world best musicians in Moscow and in St. Petersburg, she is deeply involved into the project of the Year of Russian Culture in Germany (2003), she prepares her own special program for Musical Olympus and Remembering Strauss Ball for the year 2003 when the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg will be celebrated: her events will take place in the middle of July, at the peak of the city jubilee festival.

Recently Irina Nikitina was awarded with Olympia, the first National Award of public recognition for women - leaders of the new Russia. It is the main public award for women in Russia, only few candidates from all apheres of activity were nominated by public organizations and confirmed by the governmental commission.

Congratulations, Irina, and good luck!


Author: Rovshan Shafi-Bey   Edition: Lobby Magazin  Date: 01.01.2003