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Culture news, 24.08.2004 12:39

Festival Director Enlivens the Soul of the City

baroque_festival St Petersburg Times

By Leslie K. Hook

Special to the St. Petersburg Times

Photo by Alexander Belenky / SPT

A unique family history and a passion for music have led Mark De Mauny, the director and co-founder of the city's Earlymusic baroque festival, to St. Petersburg where he feels at home.

St. Petersburg is a city that belongs not only to Russia, but also to Europe, so it is natural for a European to feel at home here, said De Mauny, who is half-English and half-French.

Born in Paris in 1971, De Mauny's early childhood was spent in Moscow, where his father, the first official BBC correspondent in the Soviet Union under Nikita Kruschev, was posted in the early 70s. His mother, also a reporter, was the second woman ever to work for Reuters.

"My earliest memories are of snow and Russian lullabies," De Mauny said. "Probably the fact that I was here as a baby rubbed off on me somehow."

After those first years in Moscow, De Mauny was raised a cheval or "on a horse's back" between the two sides of the English Channel.

His family was extremely musical. De Mauny's grandfather founded the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra when he moved to the country from Normandy after the First World War. His father played jazz piano and the flute, as did De Mauny's younger sister Alix.

De Mauny was playing the violin by the age of seven and singing as a chorister in the Portsmouth Cathedral a couple years later. "We always had live music around the house," De Mauny said.

After finishing high school in Northern England, De Mauny took a year off and headed to Russia with his backpack. Though based out of Moscow, De Mauny gap year included a few weeks of potato-digging in Yasnaya Polyana, a month living in a monastery, and a trip to Almaty to accompany the Moscow Conservatory's chamber choir on his violin.

Returning to England at the end the year, De Mauny completed a four-year degree at Cambridge, with the third year spent studying violin and voice at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. "I fell in love with Russia in 1989 when I was backpacking," De Mauny said, "and I fell in love with St. Petersburg when I was here in 1992."

After finishing his degree, De Mauny went to London to work for Tiffany & Co., but soon found himself hankering for St. Petersburg. "I didn't really want to enter the London rat race," he explained, "and I found I could breath easier out here."

De Mauny left London and moved to St. Petersburg in 1995 as a consultant for the record label IMG Artists. Three years later, he started work as the arts officer for the British Consul, where he met Andrei Reshetin, who shared his passion for music.

Together they set up the Earlymusic Festival. De Mauny says the ideas and the impetus for the festival grew out of his friendship with Reshetin, as they both realized the opportunity afforded by Russia's lack of live baroque music. "We had a good idea, a good partnership and a good opportunity," he said.

The first festival in 1998 was just an offshoot of the British Consulate, but the Earlymusic Festival continued to grow each year, changing names, gathering sponsors, and eventually creating Russia's first and only Baroque orchestra, the Catherine the Great Orchestra.

"Early music revival was very familiar to me," says De Mauny, citing his Cambridge past. "I was very well aware that it was totally ignored here in Russia. There was clearly a gap in the cultural market waiting to be filled."

Directing the festival has been rewarding not just because of the festival's success, De Mauny said, but because of the sense of giving something back to Russia by restoring a part of its cultural legacy that has been lost. "It's very fulfiling to do something you believe in, and to do something for Russian audiences, opening up centuries of music they've never heard," he said.

De Mauny speaks enthusiastically about the festival's upcoming collaboration with the Boston Early Music Festival in a world premiere of Johannes Mattheson's 1710 opera Boris Gudenow. He never imagined the festival would grow this much, he said.

De Mauny's duties as director of the festival mainly lay in the fundraising sphere. "I was really thrown into the deep end of the fundraising game,' he said. "90 percent of my time goes to fundraising."

A registered charity in Russia and the UK, the festival raises about 75 percent of its funding from corporate sponsorship, 15 percent comes from cultural centers and embassies, and much of the rest from ticket sales, De Mauny said.

The musical side of St. Petersburg isn't all that's kept De Mauny here for eight years, though. "I like the fact that it's a city planned in exquisite taste, in music, in clothes, in architecture, in lifestyle," he said.

De Mauny also said that something about the city assuages the dichotomy of a childhood divided between the two sides of the English Channel. "It's slightly odd being half French and half English. In both places I feel both at home and a stranger," he said. "Possibly, settling in Russia was a way of finding an identity that would be a whole identity."

Those closest to him say the class and the culture De Mauny embodies are an essential part of the St. Petersburg soul, something that - like baroque music - De Mauny helps restore to the city.

"He has one very important quality - aristocratism ... The town as a person needs him very much because he has this quality. It's really important for the spirit of Petersburg. We have these palaces and these parks, but the town lost this spirit in the 20th century. And Marc has it, he has that spirit," Reshetin said.


The European baroque period roughly coincides with the time of Peter the Great, De Mauny said. Although Peter the Great reigned around the same time as Louis XIV in France, there was not much string music in Peter's court.

"Legend has it that Peter liked brass, but the brass of Peter's court was a far cry from the brass that people might imagine," De Mauny said.

He noted that Peter's brass orchestra would have included instruments like the wood-and-leather zink, which sounded much like the human voice. Baroque music in Russia didn't take the same form it did in Europe, where famous composers and musicians were attached to the royal courts.

The Baroque era ended with the death of Bach in 1751, and so the court of Catherine the Great, known for its baroque melodies was technically during the early classical period with Mozart in full swing.

One peculiar difficulty of recreating baroque music is that baroque musicians played from a sort of outline, as opposed to a precise score.

Thus, while the composes determined the chord structure and overall shape of the piece, the individual performers determined flourishes, embellishments, and the actual sequence of notes they played.

De Mauny said it resembles the modern-day jazz in its freedom for improvisation. "I've discovered a lot of parallels between jazz and music of the 17th and 18th centuries," he said when speaking about playing jazz on the violin.

"In technical terms, and as far as the way the music relates to the performer and to the composer," both baroque and jazz offer the performer, "the complete freedom to be found within a very set structure," he said.

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