News from Russia

Parallel 60 and Krasnodar Camerata – two interesting festivals in Russia

Parallel 60 in Surgut

surgut2-previewIn October 2013, I had the opportunity to visit two extraordinary festivals in Russia. I describe them as extraordinary because of their location: the first was Parallel 60 in Surgut, Siberia; the other, immediately after the ECMTA Autumn Meeting, was Krasnodar Camerata in southern Russia.

Surgut is a fast growing city on the Ob River in western Siberia right in the middle of the largest oil fields in Russia. Most of its inhabitants earn their living from the oil industry. The city is not really very attractive, having been built in a haphazard way with no overall plan. Also, most of the individual houses, especially in the suburbs, are not what one might call beautiful. But the city as a whole has personality and is enjoyable, and the local residents seem to be happy and proud of their home city.


The people of Surgut love music. I was invited briefly to visit a children's art school, where a crowd of active students seemed very happy indeed to be able to attend. In the school yard, I overheard a young boy telling his father that 'the most comfortable lesson of the week' was beginning. I walked around the school and saw some fine photos of concerts and other events and was then treated to a mini-concerts in honour of my visit. The performances, mostly pieces for piano four hands, were very nice. I then spent some time talking to students and teachers at the school.

There is also a music institute for older students in Surgut, and there I gave a one-day masterclass for various types of ensemble. The students came very well prepared and were also open, active and curious to hear my comments and advice. They made an effort to understand my dialogue-based coaching method, even though it was obviously new and unusual for them.

surgut1-previewThe Surgut Philharmonia was the main venue for the Parallel 60 crossover festival that took place in September and October this year. The building is a Soviet-era cultural centre, renovated in 2003 as a glamorous venue with two concert halls. The main hall seats 1,100. Both the hall and the building as a whole are lovely, and the acoustics are reasonably good.

My contribution to the festival was at a dual recital at the Philharmonia by my Ajassa ensemble, appearing this time as a quartet, and the GAM ensemble from Moscow (the Gallery of Actual Music), appearing as a saxophone quartet led by composer Oleg Paiberdin. The hall was packed, and there were many young listeners in the audience. Our programmes were a mix of contemporary and traditional music and of lighter and more substantial pieces; composer names included Ligeti, Donatoni, Paiberdin, Weill and Schumann.

The concert was very successful, and the audience was enthusiastic. There is obviously a great hunger for culture in Surgut, possibly because work is so hard and the landscape is so bleak.

Sadly, I was not able to attend any other performances at the festival. Our recital was followed by a concert by the Surgut Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Christian Lindberg from Sweden. He also appeared as the trombone soloist. We had been preceded on 6 October by the string ensemble Virtuosos of Yakutia, at whose recital the hall was likewise filled to capacity.

After the recital, we were naturally treated to wonderful Russian hospitality at a party with our friends and colleagues from the GAM ensemble. I was obliged to leave Surgut early the following morning because of the ECMTA meeting in Savonlinna. The rest of the Ajassa ensemble remained in Surgut for one more day, and I was told that they were able to see something of the country around the city and an old Siberian village nearby.

Krasnodar Camerata

krasnodar1-previewAfter the ECMTA weekend in Savonlinna, I flew back to Russia, this time to the southern city of Krasnodar near the Black Sea. Prof. Tatyana Sorokina, a member of the ECMTA, is the leader of the Krasnodar Camerata festival there, and I had been invited to be a member of the jury in a chamber music competition and to give masterclasses to competition participants and to oboists at the University of Arts in the city. Krasnodar is a modern and beautiful city, with lots of nice parks, beautiful buildings and bridges. There are many restaurants of good quality, and the climate is comfortable. The major problem in the city – as indeed apparently in most Russian cities – is the traffic. There are simply too many cars for the old roads to handle, and traffic jams are all too common.

My visit was unforgettable for a number of reasons. It began memorably: my flight arrived late at night, and because of fog it landed in another city. I was not aware of this however, but instead just thought: "Okay, I am in Krasnodar, but the name of the airport is Rostov." Someone was supposed to meet me at the airport, but there was no one there. Also, no one at the airport spoke English or German (and I don't know any Russian). Finally, I found a friendly English-speaking lady behind a ticket counter. She told me that I was not in Krasnodar at all, but in Rostov, specifically Rostov-na-Donu, about 400 km from where I was supposed to be. She helped me find the contact details for Prof. Sorokina. Then I discovered another lady who, together with some other people, was going to take a taxi to Krasnodar, because it was beginning to look like we would otherwise have to wait in Rostov for a long time. The taxi was small and quite old, and its shock absorbers must have given up in despair years earlier. We only just managed to squeeze into the vehicle.

The driver drove like a crazy person, clocking more than 140 km/h through very thick fog on roads that were really not in very good shape at all. But it was more funny than scary. The other people were really nice, and the trip was exciting. Finally, at 9 AM, we reached our destination, still alive. And that was just the beginning of a wonderful week...


The Krasnodar Camerata festival was founded by the Krasnodar State University of Culture and Arts 12 years ago. It is an international festival and a member of the 'Culture of Russia' federal programme. Its core is the chamber music competition with various categories, but there are also daily masterclasses and concerts. Students from conservatories and other music institutions have been a central part of the festival ever since its founding. There is also an academic conference at the festival, featuring various topics involving chamber music coaching, performing, history, traditions, and so on. This year, the conference was conducted in Russian only, and I therefore did not attend.

This year, there were 186 young musicians participating in the Krasnodar Camerata chamber music competition; 60 of them, from four age groups, were accepted for the final round. The categories in the competition were wind and piano ensembles, string quartet and accompanying (correpetiteurs).

Because of my overnight foggy arrival journey, I was unable to take my seat on the jury on the first day. On the second day, I heard many piano duos in the first category and later the final round featuring the most advanced competitors in all categories. I can only say that the level of the competitors was quite variable, as there were many performances of only average quality, though there were some excellent ones as well. The jury had no difficulty in selecting the prize winners. My colleagues on the jury were Michael Utkin (Moscow), Valeriy Vorona (Moscow), Tatyana Sorokina (Krasnodar), Dragoljub-Dragan Sobajć (Belgrad), Marina Nikolayeva (Krasnodar) and Vitaliy Kolomiyets (Krasnodar).

Apart from the competition, I attended four festival concerts. The performers included two ECMTA members, Alexander Bonduryansky and Maxim Puryzhinskiy. Unfortunately, I missed the concert of the Moscow trio because of my late arrival.

krasnodar5-previewThe concert programmes were varied, and attendance was good. The concert given by the Krasnodar Camerata chamber orchestra, with Valeriy Vorona as conductor and soloist, was particularly well received. The duo recital of Maxim Puryzhinskiy and Irina Silivanova, featuring Romantic Russian music for two pianos, was also an audience favourite. Some of the prize-winning ensembles from the competition appeared at the final concert together with the Krasnodar Camerata orchestra, now conducted by Serge Djmurin and with Mikhail Utkin as the cello soloist. They played music by Astor Piazzolla, arranged by Mikhail Utkin for cello and strings.

A traditional Russian party followed after the final concert, hosted by the Rector of the University of Arts and Culture, Prof. Serge Semenovich Zengin, with lots of good food and drink for everyone. It was a great finale to the festival.

It is a pleasure to see that while European music institutions are suffering from financial crises and worrying about ageing concert audiences and the role of Classical music in modern society, emerging societies such as Russia seem to have a great enthusiasm for and confidence in the future of the fine and important sector of human culture that we represent.

Seeing this in action boosts our belief that those who proclaim the end of traditional Classical music as part of modern human life are completely mistaken. Classical music is alive and well, and will remain so far into the future. Working life is becoming tougher and more stressful, and to balance it we need intellectual and emotional nourishment. The Russian example shows that Classical music can still be relevant.

Keijo Aho