The autumn of the year 2021 eventually comes to an end: it has witnessed both the revival of the arts in different countries and the ongoing restrictions on travel of musicians involving quarantine stays and total bans on indoor events or big music festivals in some countries. While the difficulties of international movement still continue to hinder the existence of classical music in the modern world, new inventions has been put into place to overcome the challenges and bring to life important musical events. September 2021 witnessed exactly such an effort made by the organizers of the InClassica Festival that had its 10th Jubilee edition this year. Funded and managed by the European Foundation for Support of Culture, the InClassica Festival usually took place in Malta, with Malta Philharmonic Orchestra being its main orchestra-in-residence and many other musicians coming to visit the island. However, due to impossibility of having InClassica Festival at the usual place and with the willingness of international participants to take part in this event, for the whole month of September it was the city of Dubai in OAE that hosted the 30-day string of concerts that took place at Dubai Opera and Coca Cola Arena.

IMaxim Vengerov and Sergey Smbatyan. InClassica Festival. Photo by Alexei Molchanovsky

The range of conductors, orchestras and instrumentalists who became part of the festival was outstanding: it is hard even to envision the level of overall management that such event needed. One needs to mention that in parallel with the main programme of the Festival, the Middle East Classical Music Academy invited about 30 young musicians from all over the world, who, guided by a dozen of world-renowned mentors, gave concerts with famous musicians (like cellist Alexander Ramm or violinist Nikita Borisoglebsky) and became soloists at orchestral sessions with Kaliningrad Symphony Orchestra led by their Artistic Director Arkady Feldman. Thus, for a visiting music critic it was a fantastic opportunity to spend 4-5 hours a day immersed in music: an afternoon concert of the Academy that took place at Jumeira Zabeel Saray Hotel was followed by a two-part symphonic concert that started at 8pm, when finally the sun stopped scorching this part of the world.

Daniel Lozakovich. InClassica Festival. Photo by Alexei Molchanovsky

The orchestras that came to visit Dubai during September included orchestras from Russia (the aforementioned Kaliningrad Symphony orchestra, as well as Russian National Orchestra led by Mikhail Pletnev), and also Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (led by Sergey Smbatyan), German orchestra Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland Pfalz led by Michael Francis, Sloval Philharmonic Orchestra and Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. The conductors invited from Russia and the former FSU featured Alexander Sladkovsky, Mikhail Pletnev, Daniel Raiskin, Felix Korobov, Sergey Smbatyan, while Russian soloists were an extraordinary range of talents including the superstars like Denis Matsuev, Sergei Dogadin and Maxim Vengerov, the young prodigy Daniel Lozakovich, the famous cellist Alexander Knyazev, the pianists Andrey Gugnin, Behzod Abduraimov and Denis Kozhukhin. Maestro Mikhail Pletnev made an extraordinary feat of being both a conductor and a pianist at a different concert in the beginning and the end of the Festival.

Denis Matsuev. InClassica Festival. Photo by Alexei Molchanovsky

The interesting feature of the Festival was the fact that it had the NewYork-based (with his roots in Kiev and Moscow) composer Alexey Shor as its composer-in-residence. During the Festival many orchestras and instrumentalists featured symphonic pieces and Concertos (for cello, violin and piano respectively) by Alexey Shor, thus giving a full retrospective of his current work. Alexey was kind enough to talk about his music and plans for future, and this interview will soon feature in RAC. Shor’s music is very light, melodic and beautiful, combining the structural features of classicism and the modernity of today’s view of the world. Among the works by Alexey Shor performed during InClassica were ‘Seascapes’ for violin and orchestra (Vengerov), his Cello Concerto in F Major (Alexander Knyazev), Violin Concerto in B minor (Daniel Lozakovich) and a suite for piano and orchestra ‘From my bookshelf’ (Mikhail Pletnev). The works by Shor played during InClassica brought an additional feature of light and sun to the Festival, enhancing the atmosphere of festivities organised despite the challenges, and worked well in ensemble with works of 19-20th centuries (Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Wagner. Grieg etc.)

The appearance of the virtuosos and talents for whose concerts one usually buys the tickets in advance in one unusual place – was obviously extraodinary. My deepest impressions included Stravinsky’s The Firebird performed by German orchestra Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz conducted by Michael Francis (they had a four day residency at the Festival and left a very good impression), the appearance of the young prodigious violinist Daniel Lozakovich whose performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto was melodic, soulfoul and very profound, Maestro Pletnev’s work both as a pianist and a conductor (he looked very inspired and received several rounds of applause from the audience), as well as vigour and energy of Armenian conductor Sergey Smbatyan who was one of the resident conductors of the Festival and led several programmes (involving Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra), as well as actively participating in the educational part of the Festival. Denis Matsuev also shined in the Grand Finale of the Festival, although he didn’t seem to be doing his work in the profound fashion, but rather enjoying the sparkles of the finishing lines of the big event and the attention of the media.

Mikhail Pletnev conducting Russian National Orchestra. InClassica Festival. Photo by Alexei Molchanovsky

The Festival offered quite us a unique opportunity to meet musicians and representatives of several Russian orchestras, namely the Russian National Orchestra and Kaliningrad Symphony Orchestra. Also there was a chance to meet several conductors, the composer Alexey Shor and instrumentalists who were eager to share their experiences during the Festival and young musicians who participated in the Middle East Classical Music Academy. It seems that the Festival helped Dubai to develop as a hub of classical music, and it was a new and challenging experience for the city and its dwellers. The audiences in this international megapolis are not the usual European and Russian classical lovers, and for them the concerts were initially an exotic and exciting passtime. May be such a string of musicians and programmes could have been slightly better explained to these audiences, with pre-concert talks and Q&As helping to understand the context around the works played, but this is the feature that could be advised for the Festival’s next edition. Overall, it is quite thrilling to think that pandemic restrictions could be ‘fooled’ in such a clever way, with new places that are relatively free for entrance becoming centers of music. As InClassica has definitely served the purpose of developing Dubai into new direction, this is fantastic to think that classical music finds its proponents in such new locations.