on 28 May 2004

Young talents on show in Olympus

Some of the brightest of the world’’s youngest musicians assemble in town this week to take part in "Musical Olympus," a respected and internationally recognized annual festival launched by acclaimed Russian pianist Irina Nikitina in 1995.

The "Musical Olympus," which kicks off at the Hermitage Theater on Friday has been designed to introduce young talent, or more precisely, winners of prestigious international musical competitions throughout the world to St. Petersburg audiences. Along with Valery Gergiev’’s "The Stars of the White Nights" (see page x,) Nikitina’’s brainchild is the only other Russian event accepted by the World Federation of International Music Festivals. The festival’’s honorary committee has Claudio Abbado, Placido Domingo, Valery Gergiev and Mstislav Rostropovich among its members.

Nikitina herself, or several experts who she personally trusts, visit the finals of the contests, so that the opinions are based on live impressions rather than recordings or written recommendations.

Although frequently referred to as parade of winners, the festival’’s criteria for inclusion is not so straightforward. Despite its sport-influenced name, the "Musical Olympus" is not about systematically featuring the No. 1 performer from every prestigious event.

For example, Friday’’s concert juxtaposes Ian David Munro of Canada, winner of the Grand Prix for Composition at the Queen Elizabeth International Musical Competition in 2003, with Italy’’s Roberto Giordano who won fourth prize at the same festival. "It is crucially important for the festival to introduce contemporary composers," Nikitina said. "We can’’t continue performing the same 19th or at best early 20th century music in the 21st century. It is important to move forward and not to ignore the emerging art."

Nikitina’’s subjective choices create and shape the special atmosphere of her festival, in which there are no random guests. "They need genuine talent, and they have to touch my heart," she said. "These are the main criteria."

What is especially precious about the "Musical Olympus" is that the Russian audiences get to see the rising stars immediately after they have claimed fame but haven’’t settled their concert diaries for years to come or started charging mighty fees.

When it started in 1995, the festival seemed a risky enterprise as at the time it was difficult to fill the local classical music venues even during concerts given by established musicians. But those who fancy going to a concert for the sake of prestige have never been Nikitina’’s target audience anyway.

"I do this festival for concert-goers with taste, daring, enthusiasm and curiosity," she said. Thankfully, time has proved that such audiences do exist in St. Petersburg in quantities sufficient to keep the event going.

An evening of violin music will take place on June 1 at the Shostakovich Philharmonic. The program is comprised of works by Mozart, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Saint-Saens and Henry Vietan and features Valentina Svyatlovskaya (Russia), who took first prize at the Renata Molinari International Violin Competition (Switzerland) in 2002; Nikolas Koeckert (Germany), first prize winner at the Novosibirsk International Violin Competition in 2001; Patricia Kopachinskaya (Austria), who was awarded The Credit Suisse Young Performers Award in 2003, Suyoen Kim (Korea), first prize (Mozartpreis) winner at the Leopold Mozart International Violin Competition in Augsburg, Germany in 2003 and Nikolas Koeckert(Germany), first prize winner at the Novosibirsk International Violin Competition in 2003. The conductor for the evening will be 24-year-old Andris Nelsons of Latvia, who will soon become the principal conductor of the Latvian National Opera.

Participants in the festival are getting younger. "Before, the musicians were accompanied by their boyfriends, girlfriends or spouses, now they come with the parents or teachers," Nikitina smiled.

The range of instruments represented at the festival isn’’t limited by violin, piano and voice, although the majority of music competitions are organized for these instruments. This year, a daytime performance at the Yusupovsky Palace on Sunday showcases an extravagant combination of balalaika, bayan and marimba.

Lovers of classical guitar music, which is a rarely heard in St. Petersburg’’s concert halls, shouldn’’t miss the festival’’s opening event featuring Manuel Maria Ponce’’s Concierto del Sur performed by Flavio Sala of Italy, first prize winner at the Michaele Pittaluga International Guitar Competition in Alessandria in 2003.


Author: Galina Stolyarova  

Edition: St. Petersburg Times  

Date: 28.05.2004