title: 'Gergiev brings Prokofiev to the Edinburgh Festival' published: true publish_date: '31-08-2016 14:56' taxonomy: category:

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    Russian music is at the forefront of the Edinburgh international arts festival. Sergei Prokofiev, who composed the dramatic Alexander Nevsky cantata, was brought to the festival by Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. VoR's Alice Lagnado reports. Months of advance planning The Edinburgh Fringe festival enjoys a high profile in the UK and abroad. But alongside the alternative comedy and predictably provocative physical theatre is the Edinburgh International Festival, which shows off some of the world’s most outstanding orchestras, opera and ballet companies. Choosing which companies to work with and which pieces to play or sing is a task which needs months of advance planning. Matthew Studdert-Kennedy is in charge of classical music programming at the festival. VoR’s Alice Lagnado asked him how the decision was made to launch the festival with Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky cantata, conducted by the Mariinsky Theatre’s artistic director, Valery Gergiev: “One of the themes that we have running through this year’s festival is to do with art and technology. “It’s a bit of an oblique take, but obviously the original Prokofiev score for Nevsky was written for the Eisenstein film and then later he made this cantata. “So there’s a relationship between film and music here. “And that’s one of the things that runs throughout the programme – not just the Russian aspects of it but all of the programme we’re presenting. “We’ve got the Philip Glass ensemble performing to the Jean Cocteau film La Belle et la Bête, for example.” Singing in Russian Another reason to stage the cantata is that it is a great piece for the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, which always takes part in the festival’s opening concert. The chorus is made up of 150 Scotsmen and women - hardworking doctors, accountants or teachers by day, and serious classical singers by night. For this particular concert, there was the added difficulty of having to sing in Russian. Christopher Bell is the group’s chorus master: “Not a lot of people speak Russian, but we as a chorus are used to singing in foreign languages, so we’ll write in transliterations and phonetic pronunciations, so that we are aware of what we should be saying and singing when we’re doing the piece. “But then we’ll also get a language coach, who will come and instruct us on the finer aspects of the language. “We’ve worked very hard – I’m delighted to say that Valery Gergiev was very complimentary about the chorus’s Russian. “He only corrected one word, and so that’s fine.” Christopher demonstrated the two different version: Rehearsals Working with Russia’s star conductor, Valery Gergiev, was revealing. Bell said: “Valery has a reputation of not wanting to rehearse terribly much, and having his rehearsals really quite short, so we made sure we were extremely well prepared before we arrived. “But the truth of the matter is, he has used every minute of every rehearsal. “He has told stories, he has painted pictures, he has made colours. “He has, as a result of his attention to detail, lifted the performance to another level – and that’s quite spectacular! “The amazing thing is that we met a world-class star who really was world-class.” Choosing the Russian National Orchestra Another one of the Slavic choices for this year was the Russian National Orchestra, conducted by Mikhail Pletnev. Classical music programmer Matthew Studdert-Kennedy said: “Well, we tend to cast up, and we tend to invite those orchestras who we really believe can bring something very special to the Festival. “So the Russian National Orchestra went down a bomb last time. “It was an absolutely fantastic concert: they had Vadim Repin. “This year they come with Nikolai Lugansky playing Rachmaninov concertos.” Combining classics with little-know nuances Matthew admits that a trick concert programmers use is to stage a popular classical piece – and combine it with a little-known work which on its own might fail to entice audiences. For example, later in August Nikolai Luganskywill play Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto, which is known to many from David Lean’s film Brief Encounter, together with the Russian National Orchestra. But after the Rachmaninov the orchestra will play The Seasonsby Alexander Glazunov. The music was composed to accompany a one-act ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa and danced by Anna Pavlova in the early 1900s. Like Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons,it depicts the different stages in the Russian year, from bracing winter frosts to the gentle joy of new spring blossoms. Matthew Studdert-Kennedy: “I’ve certainly – and I look at concert programmes pretty much for a living, I do it every day, look at what’s programmed across UK and Europe, and it’s never jumped out at me, a concert performance of the Glazunov. “But it’s really wonderful music. “And I guess at the ballet each season is sometimes performed as an individual entity, and in the concert hall equally I think it’s possible to do it that way, but we’re doing the complete cycle, the complete year. “What Vivaldi wrote in his Four Seasons sounds very different to Glazunov’s Seasons, which are very Russian, a very ‘High Romantic’ Russian version of the Seasons.” And the two Russian pianists at the Festival this year, Nikolai Lugansky and Daniil Trifonov, bring to it a particular quality of playing. Matthew Studdert-Kennedy: “It always touches me in a different way, I have to admit. “Hearing a Russian pianist playing Russian music is always quite revealing. “There seems to be a bit of freedom that they find, some more colour. “For example, a pianist like Daniil Trifonov - he’s very reactive. “Obviously, he knows the music inside out, but you never have the sense that he’s performing it the same way that he did last week. “It feels incredibly fresh, and there’s a certain joie de vivre that comes with that.” The international festival, with its wealth of classical concerts, may sometimes seem a bit highbrow compared with the Fringe. But the Russian component of this year’s festival is easy to like. It is full of high energy – and great drama.

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