Over the years since it began as a musical celebration, the Moscow Easter Festival has turned into a cultural symbol of national significance. It is a spiritual symbol like the consecration of Holy Easter, a patriotic symbol like Victory Day; and finally for a great many Russians it symbolizes spring, hope and renewal.
This immense Russian musical forum attracts tens of thousands of listeners each year. The Festival, which is meant to reach the widest possible audience, offers programmes that range from classical masterpieces to rarely heard works–all of them performed by the finest artists of the day. Nevertheless, this Easter forum continues its policy of offering tickets at affordable prices and giving a large series of charitable concerts.
From its very inception in 2002 as the brainchild of Valery Gergiev, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre, and Yuri Luzhkov, Mayor of Moscow, the Easter Festival immediately won the hearts of the public and the critics. The First Easter Festival had both support from the Moscow City Government and also the blessing of Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II. The accolades it received soon determined its future: it was to be an annual event. In 2003 with the support of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, it was granted nationwide status.
The Moscow Easter Festival holds a distinguished position among such western European Easter musical forums as those in Salzburg, Vienna, Berlin, Lucerne, and London.
The Festival has become the annual culmination of the musical season in the capital and all across Russia as it presents a series of 150 events during two to three weeks.
From the very beginning the Moscow Easter Festival was set apart from others by its social priorities–charity, education and enlightenment–that are advanced in each of the four main Festival categories: the symphonic, chamber, and choral programmes as well as Bells Week.
Through the years the Moscow Easter Festival has been host to several thousand artists from all over the world, among them both world-class stars and promising young artists. The Festival's concerts have been graced by such fine vocalists as Anna Netrebko, Olga Borodina, Natalie Dessay, Vladimir Galouzine, Bryn Terfel, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and Ildar Abdrazakov. There have been violinists such as Vadim Repin, Viktoria Mullova, Nikolaj Zneider, and Leonidas Kavakos; violist Yuri Bashmet; cellists such as Mischa Maisky, Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, and Sergei Roldugin; pianists Denis Matsuev, Mikhail Pletnev, Lang Lang, Vladimir Feltsman, Alexander Toradze, and Yefim Bronfman along with many, many more.
The symphonic programme, which began as a series of concerts in Moscow, has now reached more than 30 cities in Russia and surrounding countries.
The choral programme started in 2002 with concerts in Moscow by 7 choirs, but in the very next year choral performances were heard in 6 cities. In each subsequent season the programme covered more and more territory. Through the generous cooperation of the Russian Orthodox Church, for the first time in history it became possible to give concerts of liturgical choral music in active places of worship. Choral groups from countries near and far are another important part of the choral programme.
From the very first days of the Festival, a broad segment of the public was drawn to the art of Easter bell ringing as the best Russian practitioners of it came each year to Moscow for the Bells Week programme. In 2002 for the first time since 1917 a garland of bells was recreated in the historical centre of Moscow with the bells ringing out from one church to another.
As part of the chamber programme in 2003 the Academy of Young Opera Singers of the Mariinsky Theatre directed by Larisa Gergieva performed in 7 cities. Artists from the Academy have now travelled all across the country.
The Festival's charitable concerts in municipal hospitals, veterans' and children's institutions, and children's music schools give those who might be unable to go to a concert hall the opportunity to hear fine musical programmes. Each season there is also a free concert for students and faculty at Moscow State University.
A constant feature in every Easter Festival is the free concert at Poklonnaya Gora in Moscow on Victory Day which draws about 300,000 listeners each year.
The Moscow Easter Festival in 2002 was called simply that, without any number. It became the «First» only after the decision was made to continue it as an annual event. The main symphonic concerts of the Festival reflect the history of Russian culture as it connects with European tradition. Each year the programmes are devoted to an overriding theme or are related to some prominent event in the arts.
For the II Moscow Easter Festival the central event was the staging of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov on Cathedral Square in the Kremlin. The audience well remembers this performance: That day the weather was miserable, turning suddenly cold with rain. Although a piano was substituted for the string instruments, the choir, soloists and other musicians of the Mariinsky Orchestra under the baton of Valery Gergiev held out to the very end and gave a brilliant rendition of the opera despite the weather.
It was during the III Moscow Easter Festival that the symphonic programme for the first time went into the regions. Ten Russian cities hosted the Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev: Saint Petersburg, Kostroma, Nizhny Novgorod, Tver, Veliky Novgorod, Ryazan, Vladimir, and Vologda. The Maestro built the programme around the works of Prokofiev, and the complete cycle of his seven symphonies was performed. The III Moscow Easter Festival also featured Bach Days in Moscow.
The IV Moscow Easter Festival was dedicated to the 60th anniversary of victory in World War II. The symphonic programme included the «heroic» compositions of Beethoven, Prokofiev, Brahms and Shostakovich. The performances of Rachmaninov's three symphonies formed a second thematic thread. And there were two very special events in celebration of the 60th anniversary of victory: a production of Prokofiev's War and Peace with Anna Netrebko and staging by Andrei Konchalovsky; and a concert with Valery Gergiev conducting the Combined Youth Orchestra that was gathered specially for this event from the countries that had fought in World War II. In quite a tight timeframe (the Festival began only on May 1st) the symphonic programme embraced 18 concerts in Moscow, Khanti-Mansiisk, Cheliabinsk, Saint Petersburg, and Ekaterinburg.
The V Moscow Easter Festival was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Dmitry Shostakovich's birth. The traversal of the works of this great composer was the culmination of Valery Gergiev's far-reaching international project in commemoration of this important anniversary which had included programmes of Shostakovich's music that he conducted in Europe, the USA, and Asia. In Moscow Maestro Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre troupe performed the composer's opera The Nose on the stage of the recently rebuilt Stanislavsky Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theatre, and there were performances of selected works from Shostakovich's symphonic legacy. For the first time in many years people in the regions had a chance to appreciate the Mariinksy Opera's world-renowned productions as part of the Moscow Easter Festival when it brought Nabucco and Falstaff to Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. Kiev had its own Festival days called «Kievan Russia», and these included performances of Gioacchino Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims, Richard Wagner's Parsifal and the third act of Die Walk?re with Bryn Terfel and others. All together there were 17 concerts in the symphonic programme.
The VI Moscow Easter Festival commemorated the 125th anniversary of the birth of Igor Stravinsky, one of the most «Petersburgian» of composers. The programme included popular theatrical pieces (the three ballets, The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring along with the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex) as well as rarely performed works (Symphony in C, Les noces, Symphony in Three Movements, and the cantata The King of the Stars). The tradition of a gift to the Russian capital in the form of an opera performance by the Mariinsky Theatre was upheld as the Academy of Young Opera Singers sang Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges in a scintillating production. Leading soloists sang parts of the Der Ring des Nibelungen that were drawn from the most large-scale project undertaken in the recent history of the Theatre. The symphonic programme comprised 19 concerts in cities along the Volga, Saint Petersburg, and Vladikavkaz.
The VII Moscow Easter Festival had some anniversaries of its own to celebrate: 225 years since the founding of the Mariinsky Theatre and Maestro Valery Gergiev's 20th year at its helm. The Theatre brought audiences a panorama both of premieres and also of its best productions from the past, including Khovanshchina and The Maid of Pskov in their historical settings. The Festival concentrated on the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (on the 100th year after his death). The programme glittered with appearances by the virtuoso Chinese pianist Lang Lang, the talented German cellist Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, the Belgian ensemble Collegium Vocale Gent and «maestro of the Baroque» Philippe Herreweghe. The 23 concerts of the symphonic programme for the seventh season attracted more than 35,000 listeners.
Because 2009 was the 200th anniversary of Gogol's birth, an occasion for all to celebrate, the programme of the VIII Festival offered compositions connected with his works. One part of these celebrations was the performance of Vyacheslav Kruglik's comic opera The Carriage based on Gogol's story of the same name. The expanded regional portion of the Festival reached 28 Russian cities. The Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra under Maestro Gergiev chartered a train and embarked on an ambitious tour from Perm to Murmansk. It was the first time the ensemble had appeared in the Russian north. That season was also the first time the Festival came to Yerevan.
The IX Moscow Easter Festival commemorated the 65th anniversary of victory in World War II by having its regional appearances include a tour of the cities that had particularly distinguished themselves during that war and by featuring the music of Dmitry Shostakovich in its concerts. The symphonic programme consisted of 26 performances. The choice treats from abroad included the Swedish Radio Choir and a tour by Jordi Savall and his orchestra Le Concert des Nations. As an extension of its international section, the Moscow Easter Festival for the first time reached Riga.
The X Moscow Easter Festival covered 38 Russian cities in all, while the symphonic programme alone reached 11 Russian cities and five national capitals (Moscow, Kiev, Minsk, Vilnius, and Astana) in just two weeks. The Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra gave two concerts a day, sometimes in two different cities by travelling from one city to the other by air or on a specially chartered train. Among the outstanding operatic events in this jubilee edition of the Festival were concert performances of Lucia di Lammermoor in Moscow and of Les Troyens in Ekaterinburg. The music of Prokofiev and Shchedrin was prominently featured in the programmes.
There were 150 concerts in the symphonic, chamber, choral, and bells programmes for the XI Festival. The symphonic programme highlighted works by Sergei Prokofiev with a traversal of the complete cycle of his symphonies and piano concerti along with the suite from The Love for Three Oranges, pieces from his ballets Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, and the symphonic suite Egyptian Nights. The symphonic programme's events in Moscow included 13 concerts, and then it proceeded to another 10 Russian cities (in the northern, southern and central areas) and to Kiev, capital of Ukraine.
The XII Festival covered 36 cities with more than 2,000 musicians from 11 countries giving 99 concerts under the Festival's auspices. This Festival was dedicated to the memory of one of the key engagements in World War II, the battle for the Kursk salient. Festival concerts were first heard in cities that had been strategic military strongholds: Smolensk, Bryansk, Belgorod, Kursk, Oryol, Tula, and Kaluga. For almost all of this tour, which was the most daunting of any to date, Denis Matsuev took the stage alongside Maestro Gergiev, and the pianist also played for the open concert at Poklonnaya Gora on May 9th. Concert performances of large-scale vocal and operatic works–Berlioz's opera Benvenuto Cellini, Verdi's Attila, Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka, and Rachmaninov's vocal-symphonic poem The Bells–were highlight events in this Festival, and all these compositions were performed by leading soloists of the Mariinsky Theatre. Valery Gergiev's conviction that the tradition of children's choral singing must be revived was put into effect in the regional portion of the Festival as local children's choirs in Smolensk, Bryansk, Tula, and Kaluga sang in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. In addition, children's choirs sang in the Nizhny Novgorod performance of Prokofiev's On Guard for Peace and in Vologda for Rachmaninov's The Bells.
In the run-up to the XIII Moscow Festival a series of pre-Festival concerts will be given, while the Festival itself runs officially from April 20th to May 9th 2014 and will cover the most territory of any yet.