on 01 January 2006

Festive times in St. Petersburg

IN MANY WAYS IRINA NIKITINA epitomises the way the arts have developed in Russia over the past decade or so. Though trained as a pianist, she decided that the new freedoms of post-Soviet Russia presented too good an opportunity to miss. Acting almost as a one-woman show purely on her own initiative, she set about introducing inter?esting new artists from across the world to her native St. Petersburg. Her main vehicle for doing so remains the Musical Olympus Festival, a series of concerts in St. Petersburg each summer, featuring the winners - or, if Nikitina decides she prefers them, the second or third-placed contestants - in various competitions worldwide.

It is not Nikitina’’s nature to rest on her laurels and this year she expanded the festival to include, besides seven concerts in St. Petersburg, another one in Moscow in the famous Tchaikovsky Hall with the Russian National Orchestra providing the accompaniment. But this was not her first venture into presenting in Moscow - a separate initiative, Concert Line, that she set up four years ago has seen her bringing to Russia artists including the NHK Orchestra and Bobby McFerrin for concerts in both the capital and St Petersburg.

A primary motivation for all her activ?ities right from the start, she says, has been to help break the relative isolation to which Russian concert audiences were largely condemned during the Soviet era. She has always been confident that given the chance to hear new artists from abroad, the Russian public would respond positively. ’’Russian audiences are willing to learn’’, she says.

Given the economic realities of Russia today, Nikitina also has another motive for expanding her activities to include Moscow. It is, as she explains, ’’where 80% of the capital in Russia is located’’. Further expansion of her activities, she fully realises, involves not merely recog?nising but also acting on that fact, both in terms of building audiences in Moscow and tapping into the growing, if still underdeveloped, potential for commer?cial sponsorship of the arts in the country. Nevertheless, Nikitina will continue to be based in St Petersburg and that city will remain as the primary location for the festival, though she promises that there will again be at least one satellite concert in Moscow next summer.

The attractions of St Petersburg as a location for arts events are more than understandable. The sheer scale and magnificence on which the central area of the city is built, even if there is plenty of shabbiness in the backstreets, remains a genuinely astounding sight. The city’’s huge public buildings, most famously the Winter Palace, squares, broad streets, canals and river frontage all conspire to provide it with a unique character. St Petersburg was, after all, the Russian capital from the early 18th century right through the 19th and into the 20th centuries, and if that title has now passed back to Moscow then there is no sense in which the city feels like a place whose time has passed.

Author: Mike Farish  

Edition: International Arts Manager  

Date: 01.01.2006