Showing Humanity through Music 

Opening of the IX Vienna Festival of Film Music in Yekaterinburg 

Source: Kultura Yekaterinburg


The ninth Vienna Festival of Film Music was opened on July 26th in Kirov Square in front of the Ural Federal University. The first item on the program was a performance by the Oberton String Octet, continuing the festival’s tradition that the opening concert of the festival is given by an ensemble making its debut in Russia. 

As far as two blocks from Kirov Square, streams of people could be seen merging into one river that became bigger and bigger as they approached the festival’s traditional venue. Half an hour before the concert, not only all the chairs were occupied but also the seats on the lawns - such a large influx of people was rather unusual to see. Welcoming speeches were given, thanks were given to all the sponsors,  and the musicians of Oberton String Octet came on stage. Music began filling the expanse - not just filling, but also transforming it. 


First on the programme was the introduction to the operetta Die Fledermaus by Joseph Strauss. This light, atmospheric music made the audience imagine they might be waltzing, with some even moving to the music, imagining themselves in the streets or squares of Vienna. The octet’s sound filled the expanse in front of the UrFU’s building, creating an effect of augmented reality. If any of the spectators had seen the New Year or summer concerts of Vienna Philharmonia just once, they could easily imagine they were in Schonbrunn palace's park or at the Vienna Philharmonic. The details were almost completely identical: bumblebees buzzing on white petunias that smelled stronger at sunset; birds flying around a quadcopter that seemed to have an ear for music too; little girls in white lace dresses waltzing to their own rhythm and wearing carnival masks with feathers; sweet elderly ladies in hats looking pensively into the depths of time. 


Then, the harmoniousness of the 19th century suddenly gave way to the chaos of the 20th: even without knowing for sure that the octet had begun playing a work by Dmitry Shostakovich, the young people sitting nearby guessed at once that Oberton String Octet had proceeded to the music of the 20th century. Shostakovich's work for string octet is filled with chaos consonant to the contemporary world, the musical narrative is broken and nonlinear, with dissonance at contrast with harmony, forcing its way through it as if through barbed wire. Shostakovich’s music, in contrast to Strauss’, is filled with pain for mankind and for the impossibility of harmony in the world when it is not present in people’s souls.

The expansive city in the summertime, the seeming tranquility and grandeur of the Stalinist architecture, the flowers and atmosphere of a picnic on a city lawn in combination with Strauss' relaxing and self-aggrandising music contributed to an acute understanding of Shostakovich’s complicated music due to the contrast - it is impossible to understand life without accepting chaos as one of its fundamental laws. Without this understanding, one might live one's entire life running around like a squirrel in a cage doing other people's bidding, whilst mistaking this as one's own desire. 


The next work, Mendelssohn's famous octet, restores our faith in man’s greatness of soul; in humanism. We hear music that would be suitable for a park somewhere near a magnificent old castle, such as Peterhof or in Vienna. We feel confident about the present and future again, it isn’t absolute blind faith anymore but rather confidence in humanity and our own resources. This vitality and harmony do not come from outside, but are rather found within us. The architecture of this music with its complicated but harmonious ensemble opens the inner expanses – the expanses of the soul where there may be either burnt-out ruins or a splendid palace. 


Oberton String Octet devoted the second part of the concert to folk music. Folk music in the sense that it expresses the character and the national styles of each particular country to the fullest.  All eight musicians in the group come from different countries. The Slovenian (violinist Veronika Brecelj is from Slovenia) folk wedding song 'Dajte, Dajte' transcribed for the octet, is a light optimistic melody, probably used to be danced to; it was impossible to stand still to its rhythm, which was immediately demonstrated by children in the audience. The Latvian lyrical melody 'Saule, Perkons, Daugava' portrayed nostalgia, admiration of its native land, and perception of oneself as a part of the greater whole. Then, the festival's guests suddenly found themselves in the vast expanse of the American prairies when the musicians started playing the Colombian national melody 'Prende La Vela' where the cello player Sebastian Mendoza hails from. The melody, with complicated rhythm and timbre, depicted the heat and headiness of Colombia; the patter of bull's hooves and even the flight of carnivorous birds searching for prey could be heard here. There were also familiar and unfamiliar melodies from South Africa, Poland, Ukraine, Austria, and Italy. 


In the final part of the concert, the spectators heard Astor Piazzolla's tangos - beautiful music for the end of a hot summer's day. The sensual dancing melodies filled the streets of Yekaterinburg with passion and emotion, bringing a strong sensation of appreciation for each small moment of time, typical of the Spanish view of life. One cannot say that the tough Uralians do not appreciate every minute of the short summer, but this music teaches one to be even more aware of each moment by finding meaning in it or sometimes even creating new meaning.

The music performed by Oberton String Octet demonstrated the nuances of different times and spaces, but overall it was about humanity and man's view of life; the different styles of the melodies in this programme created new meanings as well as the understanding of the compositions in synergy with one another.