By Laurence Vittes | From the May-June 2020 issue of Strings magazine
On June 8, Boris Andrianov, the Russian cellist who is behind the Vivacello and Vivarte festivals in Moscow, is scheduled to depart with illustrious colleagues on his 7th Musical Expeditions tour, bringing classical music to remote communities of Russia. Over the course of three weeks, they will play free, open-air concerts in front of historical buildings and monuments, some dating back to the 12th century, in Karelia, Vologda, and Vladimir.
The first stop for Andrianov’s troupe of traveling players will be Vladimir, 115 miles east of Moscow. It was Russia’s capital in the 12th century, and is one of eight ancient cities that historically formed the trade route through the vast area northeast of Moscow known as the Golden Ring. Vladimir itself made UNESCO’s World Heritage Cities list for its two cathedrals and a white stone tower with 12th-century copper-gilded oak doors known as the Golden Gate.
I spoke to Andrianov, who was in Moscow preparing to play Haydn’s C major Concerto with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. His Sony recording of the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations with the Kyrgyzstan Philharmonic is due out in August, and Signum Classics will be releasing his world premiere recording of Gabriel Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto in May.
Why Musical Expeditions?
It has a specific meaning: We play classical music where other people don’t.
How did it start?
It started eight years ago when I went with some colleagues from my chamber-music festival in Moscow to give concerts in the Vladimir region. We were going from one concert to another in this very historical area and stopped to see an estate in Gothic style that had survived because the owner, after the Revolution, had presented it to the new Soviet government—and left the country. It had been in good condition until the mid-’70s, when it was abandoned by a college. Now it was scheduled to be destroyed. I said it would be great to give a concert in front of this building to show that it needed to be restored. That’s how Musical Expeditions was born. We gave an open-air concert in front of the estate and proceeded to give a few more concerts like it in the area.
Tell me about that first concert.
There were around 4,000 people who came, because nothing else was going on there. Just local people of all ages. I’d guess that no one had ever listened to any classical music before except for 150 people who came from Vladimir. They knew we were building a stage, and that there was going to be some concert, maybe pop, maybe rock, with the name Musical Expeditions. The poster said violin, piano, etc., but I think they really didn’t know what to expect, just that something was going to happen.
When the show started, I could feel that they really weren’t making sense of what we were playing. For the first 15 minutes they didn’t listen so well. But after that there was complete silence, like in a concert hall, for another hour and a half. We didn’t play anything avant garde—Bach, Mozart, a Mexican folk song, some Piazzolla—but we played the Brahms Quintet in full—all four movements.
Why are you doing it?
Now is a difficult time in Russia. In the Soviet time there was a huge network of classical music played in every hall when the country was even bigger. But now the system has been broken. It is very good what the Moscow Philharmonic is doing with its streaming programs, but it is absolutely not enough. So, we try to change the situation with these open-air concerts where people live. In the provinces, life is very difficult, so let’s make their lives more bright and colorful.
How do you do it?
We rent a Yamaha grand from Moscow. We choose the best musicians from the Vivarte: Boris Brovtsyn, Maxim Rysanov, Itamar Golan. We make sure that the level of the concerts is the same as when we play in Carnegie Hall. It’s very important that people’s first time at a classical-music concert is not their last.
How do you know if you succeeded?
We can always see in people’s eyes that they are incredibly happy to hear classical music. It is a feeling that they have never had before. We may have a heritage that says you need to be prepared to listen to classical music, but we have found that enabling people to just come and listen is the best way for them to receive real art. And what was really new to us was how much every single person meant to us.
I’m looking for federal support to produce Expeditions all over Russia; there are literally thousands of villages and towns where people really deserve to hear great music. And the children, too. Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve found music schools that teach the violin, cello, piano, and folk instruments like the bayan and balalaika, and there are a lot of gifted kids. They watch YouTube and stream the Moscow Philharmonic, but a live performance is something special. Live is how you get music.