Actually, this entry will be a continuation of the festivities on May 27, as well as a report on the extraordinary day of May 28.
After the 5 PM concert on the 27th, we were brought back to our hotel to change for the evening's program. We were put into our usual vans and driven across a bridge over the Kazanka River to what seemed to be a huge residential district, with the standard issue large apartment buildings and complexes. After climbing quite a few flights of stairs (you expected elevators, maybe?), we started to hear the thudding beat of what I've come to know and dislike as techno pop. As we finally reached the right landing, it was obvious that we were in a sort of high-rise nightclub. There were several rooms, all very busy - a central bar/lounge area, with a sort of large pool room/sports bar and cavernous, crowded performance room attached. This latter area was a duplex, the upper level of which wrapped around the walls and featured a walkway over the performance area and mountain of equipment below. The decibel level in here easily topped 110, but did set me in mind of all of the noisy and terrible high school bands I'd played in and what sound levels I endured for my art (?) then. High volume though it was, the performers were very interesting and varied. They featured Rocky Racoon, Legalight and their "Jamayca sound", several Tatar groups and performers, including Sixense and Paxat and Drum, who presented an "afro-germany mix session." All kinds of interesting and experimental things, including electronic music, poetry and flat-out Henry Rollins-style howling. The poet in particular caught the ear of the Lumina Quartet's Asya Meshberg, who was quite taken with his work and spoke to him about it afterwards. Wonderfully, this was officially part of the Europe/Asia 2005 Festival of Modern Music.
Two things have stayed with me from the evening - 1. it was good not to feel fiftyish for a little while and 2. it was a great idea to include this as part of the Festival. Talk about giving an event variety! This was great fun and one of the most memorable parts of our time in Kazan.
Now, on to May 28. This began with a beautiful morning boat ride on the lovely Volga River, which actually reminded me just a bit of the Hudson River here in New York. We traveled several miles up (or was it down?) stream before turning and traveling several more down (or was it up?) stream before returning to the docking area. Particularly interesting here was seeing the old hydrofoil boats that no doubt took several generations of happy Soviet-era revelers out for a days excursion. A good page about these old beauties at http://www.riverships.ru/english/hydrofoils.shtml.
So, back on dry land and in the bus, off to the neighboring city of Zelenodolsk for the evening's concert. Part of the afternoon was spent at the serene, moving and beautiful Raifa Monastery on the way about 20 kilometers outside of Kazan. This monastery, situated in a deep pine forest, dates from 1665 and features wonderfully friendly monks who gladly posed for photos and chatted with us at length. It is also unmistakably a sacred space that I can easily see the attraction of.
Finally, Zelenodolsk. This is a sort of Soviet time-capsule of a small, perhaps once elegant city now gone slightly to seed. It seems to have been a center of arms manufacture and still builds real snazzy boats for river recreation. We were brought to the Gorky Cultural Center, a nice old wooden concert hall with a striking blue stage backdrop, tiled walls, non-tacked down carpets and curtains at the hall entrances.
The Lumina Quartet began the concert with Ron Mazurek's (http://www.bergen.cc.nj.us/faculty/rmazurek/bio/mazurek_bio.htm) terrific Chants for String Quartet and continued with Rashid Kalimoullin's excellent Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, with, of course, clarinetist Phillip Bashor joining the fun.
Now, a bit about Rashid Kalimoullin. Besides being the creative mind and energy behind the Europe/Asia Festival of Modern Music, he is also a leading composer of Russia and the Tatarstan Republic. A member of the old USSR Union of Composers of Russia and the Republic of Tatarstan since 1986, since 1989 he has been the President of the Union of Composers of Tatarstan, one of the most significant composers organizations in Russia ... and, he's a great guy. You can read much more about him and see a cool picture of him and Sofia Gubaidulina at http://www.muscentre.org/cgi-bin/eng/get.pl?id=27. You can also hear some sound samples of his music and perhaps purchase some of his CDs at http://www.classicalcds.net/kalimoullin/index.html.
Next up was the Netherlands-based ensemble Ziggurat. Consisting of panflute, recorder, percussion, viola da gamba and a bandura/autoharp type instrument, they create a scintillating music that mixes middle eastern, jazz, scatting, Andean sounds, baroque and pre-baroque and has more influences than you can shake an alto recorder at. For this performance, they were joined by a fine soprano sax player, who improvised around their improvisations. The third selection was a particularly intense improv that included nicely intense percussion and scatting, with a very effective closing soprano sax solo.
They were followed by the Swedish vocal quartet Vox (http://www.vox.varakonserthus.se/). Consisting of baritone (and former professional tour manager/baggage handler) Matts Johansson, mezzo soprano Katarina Lundborg, tenor Tore Sunesson and soprano Ulrika Ahlen Axberg, there is an unearthly, ethereal beauty to their performances, as well as a wonderful sense of humor as shown in the three Shakespeare Songs titled "Oh, Nuncle" and the terrific staging of the Edward Lear-texted "Such is Life", the latter of which really had the capacity audience going. Both works were, by the way, from the French composer Francois Surhan. These are special performers with wonderful sound and stage presence, and, we found out later, really lovely people that we hope to be able to bring to New York in the future.
Next was a wonderful piano piece by Finnish composer Tapio Tuomela (http://webusers.siba.fi/~ttuomela/koti_e.htm). This is clear, logical music that occupies a unique and beautiful sound world.
Then, our friends from the Belgian Rapid Deployment Consort (http://users.pandora.be/rajhans.orchestra/rdc.html). This time they presented another rhythmic and wonderful piece for violin, clarinet and tabla that made me think of J.S. Bach stumping around the Taj Mahal. We hope to bring them to New York in the near future as well.
Finally, the remarkable Russian (living in Germany) Arkady Shilkloper offered a set of solo cornet improvisations with lots of extended techniques, including body and mouth percussion. Rhythmic and remarkable playing, which was even better in his next instrument. This looks dangerous at first, as he shoots what looks to be an endless tube at the audience, but which turns out to be a plastic alpenhorn. He has monster technique, can swing his hindquarters off and improvise brilliantly till the cows come home to the collective farm. And, he looks like he's having a great time, so his audience does too.
Watching this concert in the middle of this lovely old concert hall in the middle of this old Russian city in the middle of this lovely part of central Russia, I was struck by what a wonderful festival this was and how great it was that Rashid Kalimoullin had the vision to bring such a world of musical ideas to Kazan and made it possible for such an incredible group of musicians to come together to share their gifts with these audiences and with each other. For this, he is to be highly commended.
One more concert on May 29, so one more entry in this trip diary. Then, on the plane and back home.