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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Festival Brings Easter Into Dozens of Cities

Easterfestival.ruGergiev and the Mariinsky's orchestra will play 17 concerts in 16 days.��
Among the events on Sunday in celebration of the Russian Orthodox Easter will be the opening concert of the eighth annual Moscow Easter Festival.

Continuing until Victory Day on May 9, this year's festival will include the usual mix of symphonic and choral concerts and afternoon bell ringing from the towers of churches throughout the city.

In addition to its local program, the Easter Festival again reaches far beyond Moscow, bringing music to some 26 Russian cities and, for the first time in its history, going outside of the country for a pair of concerts in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

The artistic director of the festival since its founding in 2002 has been conductor Valery Gergiev, and dominating its agenda have been performances by the orchestra of St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, of which Gergiev is also artistic director. Once again, it seems fair to ask whether any other city in the world blessed with musical talent comparable to Moscow's would almost exclusively enlist musicians from elsewhere for the central element of a festival bearing its name. Rather by way of exception this year, a single slot in the festival's symphonic program has been allotted to a Moscow-based ensemble, the Novaya Rossiya Orchestra.

Probably no orchestra other than the Mariinsky and no conductor other than Gergiev would even consider the marathon of appearances that have become a tradition of theirs at the Easter Festival. This year, they squeeze some 17 concerts, with widely varying programs, plus an opera premiere into the festival's first 16 days and combine that with a grueling travel itinerary that takes them as far east as Yekaterinburg, north and west to St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk, Murmansk, Belomorsk and Novgorod and south to Yerevan.

While Gergiev and his crew have always managed to produce memorable music at past festivals, the effects of their marathon efforts -- physical exhaustion, under-rehearsed playing and interpretations that seem to come straight off the top of Gergiev's head rather than from mature consideration -- have been all too apparent at some of their performances.

Moscow plays host this year to seven of the Mariinsky orchestra's appearances, beginning on Sunday at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with a program that includes the world premiere of "A Symphonic Diptych" by contemporary Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin, whose music Gergiev has lately been doing much to champion, Igor Stravinsky's short fairy-tale opera "The Nightingale" and Sergei Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2. The following evening in the same hall, Gergiev leads the mighty "Resurrection" Symphony, No. 2, of Gustav Mahler and accompanies the superb Israeli-Danish violinist in the Violin Concerto of Jan Sibelius.

Returning from their travels on April 25, Gergiev and the orchestra play at noon for students and faculty of Moscow State University and in the evening for the general public at Tchaikovsky Hall in a program that features Hungarian composer Bela Bartok's opera "Bluebeard Castle," with authentically Hungarian soloists, and the Violin Concerto No. 1 of Dmitry Shostakovich, featuring young Armenian violinist Sergei Khachtryan, a first-prize winner four years ago at the prestigious Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition. The following evening, conductor and orchestra return to the Conservatory and, with singers from the Mariinsky, perform the massive third acts of two operas, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Invisible City of Kitezh" and Richard Wagner's "Parsifal."

Concluding the festival on May 9, Gergiev and the orchestra first play their now-traditional Victory Day afternoon concert at Victory Park, open free of charge to all in attendance, and then move in the evening to the Moscow International House of Music to perform works by Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev as well as Shchedrin's Piano Concerto No. 5, with Denis Matsuyev as soloist.

Participating in the Easter Festival's choral program will be seven Moscow-based choirs, as well as two from St. Petersburg and one each from Samara and Vladikavkaz. As in the past, the program will also present choirs from other predominantly Orthodox countries, in this case Armenia, Bulgaria (represented by the Grammy Award-winning women's ensemble Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares), Serbia, Ukraine and, in what might perhaps be considered something of a political gesture, the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Completing the lineup of choirs will be one apiece from Estonia and Lithuania.

Most of the choral concerts are scheduled for afternoon hours, and most will be performed in Moscow churches. But the highlight of the choral program will almost certainly be its annual evening gala concert on May 7 at Tchaikovsky Hall. Taking part will be Moscow's Blagovest Ensemble, St. Petersburg's Valaam Men's Choir, the Vladikavkaz-based Men's Choir of the North Ossetia Philharmonic and choral ensembles from Armenia, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine.

For a full schedule of the Moscow Easter Festival, see www.easterfestival.ru.