Russia St Petersburg Theatre Mariinsky Mariinsky Orchestra

Mariinsky Orchestra

The symphony orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre is one of the oldest in Russia. Its history dates back to the Court Instrumental Capella, created during the reign of Peter the Great. Mostly composed of foreign musicians, the court orchestra played at balls and other official functions, besides giving chamber concerts at the imperial court.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, the court orchestra was already taking part in opera productions. The size of the orchestra constantly grew, its ranks filled by Russian musicians and students of military orchestras, theatrical schools and the court capella.

In the early 1760s, the orchestra was divided into two independent groups of musicians. One performed opera and symphony music, while the other performed ballroom music. The orchestra assimilated the experience of foreign schools of symphony music with the help of such Italian masters as Francesco Araja, Vincenzo Manfredini, Giovanni Paisiello and Domenico Cimarosa. The history of the ensemble is, however, inseparable from the general history of Russian musical culture.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Russian opera was synonymous with the name of Catterino Cavos, an Italian composer and conductor who found in Russia a second homeland and devoted forty years of his life to the Russian theatre. Mikhail Glinka’s operas also played an important role in broadening the technical and artistic potential of the orchestra. A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lyudmila were followed by the operas of Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin, Alexander Serov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Foreign operas were also staged in St Petersburg, first at the Bolshoi (Stone) Theatre and then at the Mariinsky Theatre.

One of the brightest chapters in the history of the Mariinsky orchestra was the period when it was conducted by Eduard Nápravník, a brilliant Czech musician and composer who laid the foundations of the Russian school of conducting. Nápravník made a major contribution to Russian opera and symphony culture. Under his leadership, the orchestra became a highly coordinated ensemble. A galaxy of talented conductors was born at the Mariinsky Theatre – Felix Blumenfeld, Albert Coates, Emil Cooper and Nikolai Malko. The Mariinsky orchestra also attracted the attention of the finest foreign conductors – Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow and Gustav Mahler.

These traditions were continued in Soviet times by Vladimir Dranishnikov, Ary Pazovsky, Boris Khaikin and Konstantin Simeonov. The leading conductor of this period, Yevgeny Mravinsky, began his career at the Mariinsky Theatre. His successor, Yury Temirkanov, conducted the orchestra from 1976 to 1987. Temirkanov turned to Russia’s classical heritage – not only as musical director, but also as stage director – and mounted his own versions of Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades.

In 1988, Valery Gergiev was elected principal conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre. Following his arrival, Gergiev immediately established close ties with the world’s top opera companies – Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden and La Scala. The Mariinsky orchestra regularly performs diverse symphony programmes in famous concert halls and theatres. Valery Gergiev conducts major symphony orchestras in Germany, Britain, Italy, Holland, Scandinavia and the United States. He was also the founder and artistic director of the Mikkeli Music Festival (Finland), Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival (Holland), From Rome to St Petersburg Festival (Italy), Red Sea International Music Festival (Eilat, Israel), Kirov/Philharmonia Festival (London) and the Stars of the White Nights Festival (St Petersburg).

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