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Culture news
Ex-Warehouse Opens as Mariinsky Venue
04.27.2007 16:39

mariinsky_new By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

The Mariinsky Theater’s brand-new, state-of-the-art concert hall, located in the company’s former warehouse on Ulitsa Pisareva, a few hundred meters from its historic main building, hosted its first concert for the general public on Tuesday, with its indefatigable artistic director Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky symphony orchestra for performances of Debussy’s “La Mer” and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

Nearly six months passed between the hall’s official inauguration and the venue being opened to the audiences this week.

Gergiev said the time was spent in an endless chain of bureaucratic coordination efforts with the fire inspectorate and other organizations.

“But now I can claim this venue has the best protection against fire in the entire country,” the maestro joked. “If fire-fighters manage to prove me wrong and come up with a better alternative, I’ll owe them a very good meal!”

Built in record time, within just one year, with $15 million of state financing, in addition to $24 million from private companies and individuals, the Mariinsky’s new concert hall, which is also referred to as the theater’s “third stage,” almost literally embodies the story of a phoenix rising from the ashes.

In September 2003, the warehouse on Ulitsa Pisareva nearly perished in a massive blaze that destroyed scenery for at least 30 of the theater’s productions that was stored there. It was later decided that the space be used for a modern concert hall and construction began in June 2005.

“This is perhaps the first time in modern Russia that private sponsors have invested more than the state into a large-scale cultural project,” Gergiev said.

Six individual donors, Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, RUSAL chairman Oleg Deripaska and Akhmed Bilalov, the deputy head of the Russian Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, gave money to the Mariinsky.

Designed by the French architect Xavier Fabre in the shape of a child’s cradle, the new concert hall can seat 1,100 people. Good visibility and excellent acoustics are hallmarks of the new space.

“We expect to receive some of the world’s finest performers here, and very soon,” Gergiev said. One of the confirmed agreements is a visit by the London Symphony Orchestra, which Gergiev is now leading as artistic director. “There are just 300 grams of wood in a violin, but what makes a Stradivarius precious is its marvelous acoustics. Likewise, we could have spent three hundred million dollars on this hall but its real value is in its acoustics,” said Gergiev.

Japanese acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota of internationally acclaimed Nagata Acoustics, responsible for the hall’s acoustics, attended the concert on Tuesday.

Nagata Acoustics prides itself on the exceptional sound of some of the world’s most distinguished classical venues, including Japan’s Sapporo and Kawasaki concert halls and the U.S. Walt Disney concert hall in Los Angeles.

Gergiev compares the new venue with a magnificent musical instrument which he is very proud of. Debussy’s impressionistic 1905 “La Mer”, one of the greatest orchestral works of the 20th century, defined by the composer as three symphonic sketches, was Gergiev’s deliberate choice for Tuesday night’s performance.

Ahead of the forthcoming Stars of the White Nights Festival, the musicians are still fine-tuning this instrument and getting to know the acoustic response of the new concert hall, and “La Mer’s” exquisitely nuanced instrumental palette provided a valuable opportunity for the orchestra to seek the balance and learn to make the most of the new venue.

Canadian maple — Yasuhisa Toyota’s preferred material — was ordered for the hall’s interiors. Local experts had suggested Karelian pine, but as the acoustician has not worked with the material before, he insisted on maple.

Everything about the new hall has a personal touch.

Gergiev personally selected several types of seats for the auditorium — they differ depending on their location in the hall — which were commissioned from a French furniture factory.

The Mariinsky harbors ambitious plans for further expansion.

The next step will be the construction of the theater’s ‘second stage,’ a new theater to run alongside its historic building.

Mariinsky II, a new theater to be built behind the 1840 original, which will be form part of a modern cultural district and has been designed by French architect Dominique Perrault, had originally been scheduled for completion by 2009.

Gergiev had hoped that the construction, which will be paid for entirely by the federal budget, would be completed within the next three years, but the Russian government in January suspended its contract with architect Dominique Perrault , citing concerns that his French firm might fail to deliver the project on time.

Many St. Petersburgers said they would never accept the French design, branding it too revolutionary, or lacking in taste. One of the more harmless nicknames applied to the new building is “the golden potato.” Critics said Perrault’s design is too elaborate and not in keeping with the classical lines of the neighborhood.

A lone crane looming over an empty field that was once home to the Palace of Culture of the First Five Year Plan and is now the construction site for the Mariinsky’s second stage, may not look too promising, but Gergiev said that acceptable solutions are, slowly but surely, making the project happen.

“One of the changes I personally insisted on, was that the height of the second stage should not overshadow the historic building,” Gergiev said. “We have very recently settled the issue and reduced the new building’s height by ten meters.”

After the inauguration of the second stage — whenever that finally happens — the company’s historic premises will be closed for a two-year renovation.

News source: sptimes.ru
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