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The British are coming
November 1, 2007 - November 30, 2007

rudi_eastwoodBy Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

Photo:Conductor and festival organizer Rudi Eastwood speaking about his plans this week.

A young and aspiring English musician studying orchestral conducting with St. Petersburg’s Philharmonic Society aims to bring English classical music to the city with a new festival this year.

The driving force behind the project is Rudi Eastwood, a London-born pianist-turned-conductor and graduate of U.K.’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music, who feels that British classical music remains a missing link in the repertoires of many Russian orchestras.

The Festival of British Music, tentatively scheduled for November, is set to showcase “the sheer wealth and diversity of British music,” as Eastwood puts it. The program features music by British composers from the 17th century to contemporary works. Perhaps the youngest name on the playbill will be Eastwood’s brother, composer Michael Eastwood, who has been commissioned a work.

The two week-long event will feature seven performances, including two orchestra concerts, three chamber recitals and a theatrical show.

“We are also looking into the possibility of inviting a prominent British Ballet company, the Royal Northern Ballet, to give a performance of David Nixon’s ‘The Three Musketeers’ set to the music of Malcolm Arnold,” Eastwood said.

Before coming to Russia, Eastwood studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London. During this time he performed as soloist and chamber musician at Wigmore Hall, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church and in various music festivals throughout Europe. But his professional interests shifted after an unfortunate injury.

“I turned to conducting after suffering an injury to my arm, which meant that I could no longer put in the hours of practice required for a concert pianist,” Eastwood recalls. “After the injury, I founded the Karelian Sinfonia, an orchestra comprised of students from the top music colleges in London.”

In 2006, Eastwood’s conducting studies brought him to St. Petersburg. The musician’s teachers at the respected Philharmonic Society include Pyotr Gribanov and Georgy Yerzhemsky.

The Russian musicians have been very receptive to the idea of the festival, he said.

“They would be very keen to participate and play this new music,” Eastwood added.

For example, the State Academic Orchestra that resides at the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace, has expressed a keen interest in performing [18th century composer] William Boyce’s Symphony No.1, Edward Elgar’s Symphony No.1 and John Ireland’s Piano Concerto at the festival’s opening concert as well as performing other programs during the festival.

The festival aims to give center stage to up-and-coming British performing talent. The organizers have invited the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year, Tom Poster, to play Ireland’s concerto alongside the Russian orchestra with Eastwood conducting.

The State Academic Cappella Symphony Orchestra has agreed to perform the festival’s final concert — at the Cappella’s home venue — in the program of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antarctica for soprano solo, female chorus and orchestra, and a new work commissioned by the festival.

Williams wrote the original Sinfonia Antartica (“Antarctic Symphony”) as a film score for the movie “Scott of the Antarctic” (1948). The subject inspired the composer to work on the symphony, which incorporated much of the original material. The reworked symphony premiered in 1953 in Manchester with Sir John Barbirolli at the baton of the Halle Orchestra.

Eastwood’s idea is organize a screening of the film as part of the festival.

Some of the festival’s most exciting offerings are intended to be what Eastwood described as “theater productions with incidental music,” such as a performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet directed by Elizabeth Bowe and performed by students from London’s Academy of the Science of Acting and Directing (ASAD).

“The music will be played as interludes and melodramatically, accompanying voices as the music would do in a film,” Eastwood said. “In the late 19th Century, this genre was very popular, but performances of this kind rarely take place today. Some examples include Grieg’s music to Peer Gynt and Mendelssohn’s music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Fundraising for the festival is in full swing, and the organizers — Eastwood along with the festival’s producer Edward Clark and manager Yelena Kostyushenko — have already collected funding for two orchestral concerts. This week, team members are contacting British companies based in St. Petersburg, for further financial support.

“We believe this project to be unique, as there has never been a British Festival of this kind or on this scale in St. Petersburg,” reads a letter prepared by the organizers. “Not only will the Festival provide a much needed concert platform for young British musicians at the outset of their professional careers, but it will also introduce a Russian audience to British culture. All in all, the Festival will exist to showcase the best of British music and we hope that it will eventually possess the capacity to attract music lovers from around the world.”

For more information and contacts, please visit the festival’s website at

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