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Culture news
Bringing Harmony to the Baltic
08.13.2004 12:08

classical_music_festival ST PETERSBURG TIMES

By Galina Stolyarova

STAFF WRITER

Photo by Arne Hyckenberg / FOR SPT

A classical music festival with an environmental flavor, aimed at drawing attention to the plight of arguably the most polluted sea in the world opens in Stockholm on Thursday, August 19th.

As well as contributing in large measure to the pollution in the Baltic, St. Petersburg is contributing to the festival this year with the participation of Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theater company.

The Second Baltic Sea Festival, established last year by renowned Finnish conductor and composer, Esa-Pekka Salonen, artistic director of Los-Angeles Philharmonic, brings together classical musicians from the region.

The Mariinsky Theater joins the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Swedish Radio Choir in this year's event. Gergiev, one of the festival's organizers, brings to Sweden one of the company's most recent and most successful productions - Yury Alexandrov's rendition of Dmitry Shostakovich's "The Nose", a rarely staged Soviet-era opera loosely based on Nikolai Gogol's story.

The festival gets its funding from the Swedish government, the city of Stockholm and a number of private companies.

What Salonen originally had in mind was to present prominent musicians from the Baltic Sea area in a compact and tightly packed event emphasizing the cultural richness and enormous diversty of the region.

"The are so many political structures in Europe at the moment that are more or less artificial, like, for instance, the European Union or NATO," Salonen said. "The Baltic Sea countries, similar to Mediterrenean countries, have a common history and culture, and therefore present a natural unit, rather than one based on artifical political agreements."

As the maestro points out, the countries, which have been through periods of tranquillity and turbulence, have now developed a political relationship in which the exchange of ideas and communication is easy to establish and maintain. "We just felt that it is the moment to manifest it through the classical music," he said. The idea of cultural integration will reach its apogee at the festival's final concert, juxtaposing Salonen conducting Stravinsky's "The Firebird" and Gergiev leading Sibelius's Symphony No.1.

The festival's environmental element is inseparable from its artistic philosophy, according to its organizers.

The Baltic sea is abundant with dangerous toxic algae, especially in the coastal area. The Swedish Commission for the Protection of Water Environment warned last year that the Baltic Sea is in an extremely serious state and that many species in the Baltic's ecosystem may face extinction because of contamination.

The number of sightings of fish in the Baltic Sea has decreased by almost a half, while the fish population, plankton and seaweed find themselves at a below-critical survival level due to a shortage of oxygen.

For various political and economic reasons, not every country in the region is contributing to the ecological revival projects. Russia, responsible for lion's share of the pollution, hasn't been very active combatting the consequences, while its citizens show little awareness in environmental issues in general.

Pregnant women in Sweden are now recommended not to eat herring, as it can affect the amount of dioxin in their bodies. But in St. Petersburg, the largest single source of pollution in the Baltic, such regulations are unheard of. It is common to see fishermen just a few hundred meters from an illegal out-pipe that turns water into an oily substance that is as bright as it is poisonous.

Salonen said he had been thinking about organizing this festival for years but the more immediate, and more personal, impulse to start working on the event followed about three years ago when the maestro, who typically spends the summer months in his home country, discovered, to his frustration, it was unsafe for his two daughters and son to swim in the Baltic Sea.

"I am not naive enough to think that classical musicians can save the environment of a whole sea," Salonen said. "But I do think that if we bring the ideas into the minds of the people with this ecological theme running through the festival, we have a better chance to improve the situation in the future."

Eventually, the festival's organizers want to widen the festival's geography by holding satellite events in other places across the region. Salonen is also keen to make the program more versatile by attracting jazz, rock and popular musicians to the event for a fuller, more embracing picture of the cultural scene.

"I would like to see every Baltic country participate in this," he said. "At this stage owing to financial constraints we have a limited program but next year we are hoping to widen the repertoire and get more countries involved."

News source: times.spb.ru
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