Articles by Barnaby Thompson



Number's Up for the Ruler of the Mariinsky

Valery Gergiev, leader of Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, should stand aside for the good of the company.

Russian Teachers Go to London to Teach English

In an effort to combat Britain's chronic teacher shortage, a London primary school has turned to Russian Teachers to teach the British national curriculum.

The Weirdos Made It All Worthwhile

In the words of Spike Milligan, I'm not going to thank anybody because I did it all myself.

The Deputies Should Be A Bit Kinder

St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly has changed a lot since Governor Yakovlev took office in 1996.

Airlines Race Against Europe Ban

  • 06 April 01
  • Staff Writers
Russian aviation companies are facing the loss of access to their most lucrative market unless they install new safety and noise-reduction equipment in their aircraft.

If You Can’t Win, Then Join Unity

Irina Khakamada, a leading member of the Union of Right Forces, was in St. Petersburg last week, and it was a really depressing experience.

Nuclear Power: A Tainted Future?

  • 19 February 01
  • Staff Writers
Russia is considering importing spent nuclear fuel, but some experts are warning that the potential hazards involved in such transfers far outweigh the huge financial gains.

Seeking the Holy Grail For Nuclear Power

Russia is mounting a costly and controversial pursuit of the elusive prize of a closed-cycle nuclear system.

U.S.S.underweaR on Show

Nov. 7 was once the cue for the unfurling of a mass of red banners and flags. But this year St. Petersburg was given a display of fabrics of another kind: Soviet underwear.

U.S.S.underweaR on Show

Nov. 7 was once the cue for the unfurling of a mass of red banners and flags. But this year St. Petersburg was given a display of fabrics of another kind: Soviet underwear.

Greening a Rooftop Environment

ST. PETERSBURG -- Imagine a city made up of thousands of self-contained environmental systems, producing the finest and most ecologically pure products, with each cell taking responsibility for its own waste and creating a few jobs to boot. Perhaps unlikely f but a pilot project in St. Petersburg has turned one block of flats into an ecological model, which, its organizers hope, will encourage others to follow suit. The building in question, located on Pulkovskaya Ulitsa in the south of the city, is home to a highly unusual urban community. With funding from the European Union's TACIS program, a group of around 50 residents has created its own environmental cycle using literally the whole building, from top to bottom. Starting with families sorting out the food waste from their garbage, the waste is collected and brought to the basement, where it is fed to worms to produce compost.

Klebanov Takes Ministry, Moscow in Stride

ST. PETERSBURG -- A cynic might say that Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov is one of the few members of the St. Petersburg gang of politicians in the federal government who has a real achievement he can point to on his resume. While in the first half of the 1990s people such as Vladimir Putin, Alexei Kudrin, German Gref and Anatoly Chubais were trying without much conspicuous success to turn St. Petersburg into a major economic zone and an example to the rest of the country, Klebanov, who now oversees the arms industry, was at the helm of the city's giant optical concern, LOMO f and showing everyone up with his success. LOMO is famous among amateur photographers in the West for its compact, cult camera that even spawned a Lomographic Society, but most of its production is more sophisticated.

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Sobchak Paradox: Democratic, Autocratic

ST. PETERSBURG -- One of the brightest, most charismatic figures in Russia's early democratic years, Anatoly Sobchak was the mayor whose grandiloquent plans never seemed to coalesce; whose term, and seemingly his career, ended with a shocking 1996 defeat at the polls, and then with corruption allegations that chased him into the ignominy of self-imposed exile in Paris. He will be remembered both as a hero - who in 1991 stood by then- President Boris Yeltsin against the ill-fated August coup attempt, and who went on to urge the development of a liberal market economy - and as a scandal-dogged big-city mayor, a man investigated for abuse of power and corruption and criticized for his haughty, autocratic rule. ""He personified the hopes and disappointments of the entire country,"" said Alexander Shishlov, a Yabloko faction State Duma deputy and a frequent opponent of Sobchak's. In 1991, there were three men on the national stage: Yeltsin, Sobchak and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Rough Deal for St. Pete Music Fans

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Stars of the White Nights festival came up with an unscheduled and largely unannounced concert this week that left many of us struggling for words. One description that might fit the bill is ""third-rate."" It was an evening that critics and music lovers in the West, who apparently hear and see nothing produced by Valery Gergiyev that doesn't send them into raptures, should have attended, for it provided a typical example of the disdain in which the maestro holds the public of his home town. Wednesday evening's concert could have been perfect. A 10 p.m. start, an enticing program, musicians of the caliber of the great viola player Yury Bashmet, and a stroll home or on to a bar afterward under the white midnight skies of a St. Petersburg June. What we got instead was a 10:40 p.m. start (they were still rehearsing), a shortened concert (no ""Symphony in Three Movements"" by Igor Stravinsky) and some downright shocking performances.

Fiery Opening for White Nights

ST. PETERSBURG -- Calling all opera lovers, and even those still waiting to be converted: Sergei Prokofiev's ""Semyon Kotko,"" shown on the opening day of the Stars of the White Nights Festival, is the best production the Mariinsky Theater has come up with in a long time. Yes, ""Semyon Kotko"" is a Soviet opera, written in 1939 following the success of Prokofiev's score to Sergei Eisenstein's film""Alexander Nevsky"" - at a time when the composer was desperately trying to work out what kind of music the authorities wanted from him. Yes, one might well look askance at the subject matter - atrocities committed by the German army in 1918 Ukraine. Yes, it is five acts long requiring two intervals. And yes, the opening bars, with their uninspired romanticism vaguely reminiscent of ""Romeo and Juliet,"" do not inspire much confidence that there will be great music to follow.

Farewell to a Maestro of Maestros

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ilya Musin used to say that conducting a symphony orchestra was actually quite easy. ""You just have to know how it's done,"" the St. Petersburg Conservatory professor would say. On that, Musin, who died Sunday at the age of 95, was one of the world's leading authorities. Denied a brilliant conducting career by Soviet anti-Semitism, he became a teacher to a flock of the world's best conductors. The list of former students who performed at his 95th birthday concert in January included Yury Temirkanov, principal conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra; Valery Gergiyev, artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater; Semyon Bychkov of the Orchestre Nationale de Paris; Arnold Katz of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra; and Vasily Sinaisky, former music director of the Moscow Philharmonic. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Musin's international recognition grew as students from all parts of the globe flocked to St. Petersburg to learn from him.

Lavish 'Onegin' Answers Skeptics in Style

ST. PETERSBURG -- Talk to any Russian about Pushkin and you will inevitably come up against the dreaded rebuttal: On nash (He's ours.) They have their own Pushkin films, they have their own unique acting traditions, and they know great chunks of the poet's work by heart. So when Martha Fiennes' ""Onegin,"" with Fiennes' brother Ralph as co-producer and starring in the title role, received its world premiere last Sunday in St. Petersburg and was then shown in Moscow on Thursday, the production team was probably bracing itself for a snide reaction. And they got it. ""Obviously, today this is the only way of filming Pushkin (as well as Shakespeare and Dickens) - in a straightforward manner, like a regular Hollywood scriptwriter,"" wrote Kommersant film critic Mikhail Brashinsky. In fairness, however, this adaptation of Pushkin's novel-in-verse about spurned love, has plenty going for it. The Fienneses' ""Onegin"" is a story told in beautiful pictures.

Pushkin's Birthday Bash

St. Petersburg -- The summer of 1999 is almost upon us, and, like every year, St. Petersburg's cultural scene will soon be one teeming mass of cultural events, conferences, exhibitions, concerts and festivals. From the Flower Arranging Festival to the ""Stars of the White Nights,"" almost every aspect of the city will have a celebration in its honor: the majestic raising of the bridges, films, art, jazz, opera and ballet, street theater, choirs, students and military bands. This year, however, there is one factor common to all the entertainments, one man who is the center of all the fuss, one date to which practically every single cultural presence has gravitated. June 6 marks the 200th birthday of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, the country's literary colossus, a national emblem and a hero for imperial, revolutionary and democratic Russia - and the closer people can organize their jamboree to that magic moment, the more they can associate themselves with the national bard, the better.

Visions of Perfection in New Opera

SAMARA, Central Russia -- It was billed as the last great Russian musical event of the 20th century, it involved 120 performers and a handful of the biggest names working in the dramatic arts today. The world premiere of Sergei Slonimsky's opera ""The Visions of Ivan the Terrible,"" held last week at the Samara Theater of Opera and Ballet, lived up to all expectations. Samara's opera theater may lack the grandeur of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater or St. Petersburg's Mariinsky, but it nevertheless succeeded in luring the services of conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and Georgian director Robert Sturua for the premiere of Slonimsky's opera - no small tribute to the reputation of the theater's company and orchestra. Composer Slonimsky's personal association with Samara stretches back three decades: His Fourth and Fifth Symphonies premiered here and the opera theater already has his ""Mary Stuart"" and ""Hamlet"" in its repertoire.

St. Petersburg Offers Musical Treats This Season

Ever since Zhenya in the movie ""Irony of Fate"" accidentally boarded a plane to Leningrad on New Year's Eve and ended up finding true love, Russia's northern capital has been a favorite destination for Muscovites looking for a change of scenery for the holidays. This year, St. Petersburg has a lot of magic in store for music lovers with a series of concerts at the Shostakovich Philharmonic Great Hall and a slew of popular music treats. The concerts run under the umbrella title ""Christmas Encounters in Northern Palmira,"" an allusion to the Italian city's supposed similarity to St. Petersburg. Working backwards, a highly recommended way in which to start your New Year's Eve celebrations is with conductor Mariss Jansons and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra at 6 p.m. Jansons will lead the acclaimed ensemble through an evening of Johann Strauss waltzes in their answer to the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day concert. Renowned Russian pianist Vladimir Krainyev will perform solo and with the St.