Morgan choir to heat up Russian winter fest

Temirkanov invites group to event in St. Petersburg

December 27, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic. The Morgan State University Choir.

Long cold nights. Fireworks.

Shostakovich. Gershwin.

All part of the International Winter Festival, Arts Square, a musical extravaganza organized by Yuri Temirkanov, music director of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The festival, which begins tomorrow night, has been lighting up the cultural scene in St. Petersburg, Russia, each winter since 1999.

Presented in some of the city's grandest and most historic sites, this year's 11-day event will celebrate the musical bonds between Russia and the United States. "I am very happy to bring together two very different - yet equally important - traditions," Temirkanov says.

Helping to represent the American traditions will be Baltimore's top-notch Morgan State University Choir, invited by Temirkanov to perform in an all-Gershwin program with the Philharmonic and to give a solo concert as the festival finale. Americans Daniel Hege, former associate conductor of the BSO, and violinists Sarah Chang and Stefan Jackiw will also be featured, along with works by notable American composers from Charles Ives to Lou Harrison.

Temirkanov first worked with the Morgan State choir last year in a BSO Gershwin program. "I immediately felt that this chorus must come to my festival," he says. "The Russian people know Gershwin and love Gershwin; they know very well that period and culture of American history. I can guarantee that the chorus will be received with pleasure and enthusiasm."

Before the choir helps wrap up the Winter Festival, audiences will hear several concerts by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and one by the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra in the aptly named Grand Hall, where Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony and innumerable masterworks by the likes of Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev and Shostakovish were first heard. A recital by eminent British pianist John Lill, a new art exhibit at the State Russian Museum, a new work by the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, and an evening of Russian and American poetry and music will also be packed into the festival.

New Year's Eve gala

For extra elegance, there will be the annual New Year's Eve Ball given by Temirkanov at the Yusupov Palace, a haunt of the city's high society for two centuries and the site of Rasputin's notoriously protracted murder in 1916. Complete with a concert in the palace's private theater, lavish dining, dancing and fireworks, the ball has become the festival's signature event.

"Like the White Nights Festival during the summer in St. Petersburg, the Winter Festival is an opportunity to display Russia's rich cultural traditions," Temirkanov says. "This is especially important ... given that the cultural life of Russia faces serious challenges today."

Although not as well-known as the summer event, Temirkanov's enterprise is making its mark. "Several years ago, when I first considered hosting a major festival in my home city," the conductor says, "I realized that there was nothing of great substance happening, culturally speaking, during the winter months. It also happens to be when St. Petersburg is especially beautiful."

And cold. And dark (with only about six hours between sunup and sundown).

"St. Petersburg is not on everyone's list to visit in late December, early January," admits festival director Kathleen Charla, an American who has worked for Temirkanov's fest since 2000. "Every year, the festival grows in reputation, and we are getting more foreign visitors."

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, St.Petersburg's cultural set typically went away for the summer, after the extraordinary artistic activity of the winter season. "It was maestro Temirkanov's idea to revive that historic winter tradition," Charla says.

Like any top festival, this one has its share of luminaries. In recent years, superstar pianist Evgeny Kissin and nearly superstar pianist Lang Lang were featured. This year's lineup includes baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, one of the world's leading vocal artists, who will appear with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Also, exceptional violist Yuri Bashmet will conduct and perform with the Moscow Soloists. "People here are very grateful to the festival for bringing international artists," Charla says, "especially since the Philharmonic can't normally afford to bring them in."

It isn't easy for the festival to afford big-name artists, either. In the post-Soviet, post-state-support era, Russian arts organizations have had to find money much the same way as American arts organizations do.

Scraping funds together

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.