Some festival correspondence
Article by Irina Rodionova

Dear Friends!

We'll be happy to see you at the concerts of the

XIth New Music Festival 'Sound Ways'

from 14 to 21 of November, 1999

"Thank you for initiating me into the details of your festival. It is good that, despite the problems of survival, the festival continues intensively to develop."
  Brian Ferneyhough
"I have heard many interesting thing about your festival in St. Petersburg, and I am very unhappy that ill-health prevents me from coming to it. Having lived through the Stalinist dictatorship myself, I understand very well how difficult it is in Russia and how much there is for you still to do. My whole heart is with you and your musicians."
  Gyorgi Ligeti
"Thank you for the invitation. I greet your festival warmly and I send my offer of participation in it."
  Karlheinz Stockhausen
"I hope to be able to come to St. Petersburg again and meet your wonderful audiences at the "Sound Ways" festival."
  George Crumb


Every year in November we organize in St Petersburg International Festival of New Music "Sound Ways". At the festival the creations by the composers-avantgardists, who are experimenting in the sphere of the academic music, is performed. During the last years at the festival concerts the music by the composers of Russia, Austria, Great Britain, Argentina, Bulgaria, Germany, Holland, Danemark, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Corea, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, USA, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan was performed.

"Sound Ways" are quite famous in Russia and abroad. The Festival programmes are published by the Dutch "Gaudeamus"- bulletin, Russian newspaper "Musical Review", French and American leaflets. Russian newspapers and magazines were writing about "Sound Ways", some articles were devoted to it in the musical magazines of Germany and Holland. During the last festivals the radio programmes were prepared in Russia, Austria, Germany, films were done by the Petersburg TV. For many outstanding musicians it has become an honour to take part in our festival.

The festival programmes include the first performances of the music by Petersburg composers, the first Russian performance of the creations of the composers of the Western musical avantgarde, music specially composed for the festival and also the music by the leading composers of the world.

In the different years such musical ensembles have taken part in the festival as "L'art pour I'art" (Hamburg), "United Berlin" (Benin), "Ensemble 13" (Karlsruhe), "Sound Ways" (St.Petersburg), "Rhetikus" (Vienna), Salzburg Ensemble of New Music, Manhattan String-Trio, Wurzburg Percussion-Ensemble, vocal ensemble "Euphonia" (Amsterdam) and also famous Western and Russian solo-performers.

For the 1997 Festival the really great event was the participation of the most outstanding American composer George Crumb. At the final concert of the festival his music was performed by the American singer Barbara Ann Martin and "Orchestra 2001". One of the American film-studious prepared a special film devoted to the visit of George Crumb to St. Petersburg.


The late autumn is not the best time in St.Petersburg. Therefore most of the city's festivals have gravitated to the spring, closer to sun, close to the white nights. Often, all the participants and guests of the "SOUND WAYS" festival have been met by foul wind, first wet snow and gloomy heaven. But anyway they have been met already ten years. "SOUND WAYS" was nearly the first among lots of new music festivals which were born during Perestroika. It's hard to remember those names today. Most of them disappeared. "SOUND WAYS" was lucky. We are celebrating now our 10th anniversary. It's our first jubilee and therefore ifs a good reason to remember how it began.

It's easy to begin in 1989 when St.-Petersburg Composer's Society, being impressed by the total changes in our country, (everybody was), let the young composers arrange instead traditional soviet(!) creative's achievements review "SOUND WAYS" festival. By the way, most of the "young" were 30, near 40 - but it's not the most important thing. The title name which didn't come soon, was taken from Charles Ives, whose composition ( in Original - Tone Roads) were one of the "first allows" of music avantgarde. In the same time the assembly of the whole Young Art Unions took place. The head of cinema's group was Alexander Galibin, who have introduced Oleg Teptsov's new film "Mister Designer". There were architectural project's, exhibitions, reading poetry, and collective dreams about the New Art Union Centre with a huge concert hall, theatre hall, lots of different experimental studies - as usually happen with the young people in a country that feels itself to be young. But it's all passed. Somebody people prefer to stay alone as they used to be; but "SOUND WAYS" festival is the joining of the singles people, who are collecting together once a year to hear each other, to show their new works to others. A bit later was born a new association with the same name, which collected under it's "roof" some musicians from St.Petersburg and abroad, who had the similar viewpoints about the mainstream contemporary music genesis. Foreign visitors were also very pleased about the appearance of "SOUND WAYS". They used to come here almost free for the festival stuff, often with their own money, for which we are very grateful. They use to call "SOUND WAYS" the "Russian Darmstadt". This is quite complimentary but it mostly reflects the "SOUND WAYS" spirit; because Darmstadt's courses are the whole institution, with government's finances. "SOUND WAYS" is one person's institution. Alexander Radvilovitch is an artistic and financial director, the manager, editor, translator, driver etc. Of course, everything is done with the help and support of some people and companies, who use to help for a different reasons: somebody because of friendship, somebody because of the idea, and somebody just because of admiration of Radvilovitch's energy and obstinacy. But we must confess that the number of those people has grown from year to year. The word "first" would always be connected with our festival. It's become really the first festival of difficult contemporary and avant garde music, so called in our musical city. Lots of Russian and even World premieres have taken place here, a lot of new names have been discovered, some very famous Western composers come here for the first time, among them a classic of the world music avant garde George Crumb; there were first performances in Russia of the best European new music interpreters - ensembles and soloists. "SOUND WAYS" attracted some young St.Petersburg musicians, whose desire to perform new music has been already used. Some of them have made the first and only new music ensemble in St.Petersburg - "SOUND WAYS", which performs in Russia and in the Ukraine, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland.

And, lastly, "SOUND WAYS" is not just a festival - it is also a seminar for the young composers and performers, where the well-experienced musicians from St.-Petersburg and abroad have done consultations on the new composing techniques and have occasionally opened the door to the secrets of some of the performers of difficult modern music. Those sort of seminars were the first in USSR and still the only in Russia. From the beginning it was the wonderful and quite romantic atmosphere of a secret organisation where just the members know how to speak the same language. The first tapes and accessible scores, which have been copied with such a lot of difficulties, now could be discussed absolutely legally. Then we realised that the forbidden fruit could be sweet and could be empty. Now we are not dependent on the new techniques, it's not our intention any more, ifs just a trade now. We passed through those experiences, and have got our own face. And perhaps this is the general "SOUND WAYS"'s reward.

The word 'first' could sound sad. Alfred Schnittke's music was performed here but he couldn't hear it. To his memory was dedicated the first concert, prologue to the X-th festival "SOUND WAYS" in Cappella Hall. And the epilogue was the first performance in St.-Petersburg (!) of Schonberg's "Erwartung" in the Great Philharmonic Hall with the Honorary Orchestra of Russia under Alexander Dmitriev as a conductor and with Sigune von Osten - the famous new music interpreter, en excellent singer from Germany; she is a constant "SOUND WAYS" participant.

And also in the Festival programme was some Russian and World premieres again, a concert "Pupils. Graduaters. Teachers" in our ALMA MATER - St.Petersburg Conservatoire. In the Small Philharmonic Hall there was first performance of New Music Ensemble from Switzerland. (We expected also several ensembles to come from Austria, USA, Germany but the crisis made them cancel their visits until a better time.)

As always for the end of the festival the concert-marathon took place in the Composer's House. The idea is also new for St.-Petersburg. It was in rondo form, and as a refrain was the Festival's favourite 'Piano-Forum'. And of course there were the seminar, different lectures, masterclasses, consultations and the jubilee conference, where we tried to understand the whole Festival experience in the composer's and performer's spheres of the new music. Now the general festival idea is very far from just a young composer's review. "SOUND WAYS" includes the repertoire spectrum from avant garde classic to neophytes. Therefore the music which being performed at the Festival is on a different level. But we've tried to choose just good music to perform. And any experiment could come to a negative result. But more important is that the "SOUND WAYS'"s other music world or sometime just the music background, is an experimental academic music life which is still developing. And therefore it's a reality, it's our life today which has been heard by the composer. That is the point. Perhaps among the tens or hundreds of new names, some or only one, will stay to show the next generations the strange Zeitgeist of the late XX century which has been reflected in the sounds of the music. Do try to hear it (or ourselves?) now...

Irina Rodionova