It’s difficult to imagine the Slavonic Bazaar, or the city of Vitebsk, without this woman.
Yelena Spiridovich, an Honoured Artiste of Belarus, has been a permanent programme hostess at this multi-coloured musical forum for 17 years. She co-authored the Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk project and conducted Diaries of the Festival at the first event. This year, the format of the opening ceremony changed; it was opened by seven conductors, including Ms. Spiridovich. When her magical voice was heard at the festival, I thought that, without her, these celebrations would lose their powerful charm. She possesses her own special feminine style and is a unique hostess — as is evident as soon as she enters the stage of the Summer Amphitheatre.
Ms. Spiridovich shares her personal impressions of the Slavonic Bazaar–2009:
This year, I’ve conducted only three concerts. It was a ‘super-flexible’ regime for me compared to previous years. When you have seven concerts you don’t have time even to eat — it’s crazy! This time, I had breakfast and dinner and walked through Vitebsk with my husband; we visited museums, exhibitions and concerts and met up with friends. I heard so many compliments — much more than in the past.
I’m sure you did receive compliments previously but because you were so busy you didn’t notice. Didn’t you feel sad that you weren’t the only conductor from Belarus announcing the opening of the Slavonic Bazaar? I personally felt this, knowing that you have grown up jointly with the festival…
I didn’t feel sad but I was a little bit worried about my young colleagues. Would they cope? Conductors bear great responsibility. They must know the score — every nuance — and must be able to improvise. This comes with experience but some of it is also nature. Surprises can happen…
Are you personally pleased with the Bazaar?
I’m very pleased. For me, the festival is a child who is 18 now. I watched him learning to walk. As a pupil, he received good and bad marks and met various people — some helped and some kept him down. Today, I’m happy that this adult child has both feet on the floor.
What is the major power of the Slavonic Bazaar?
Its traditions… as long as people preserve and accumulate them, the festival will thrive.
What can you say about the director of the festival Rodion Bas?
Mr. Bas has managed to create a team of professionals, who love the festival wholeheartedly — as he does — and fulfil their work perfectly. I know of no other strong and tender hands to which I would want to entrust the festival.
Has anyone ever proposed such changes?
Yes. Proposals seemed very alluring (many people were carried away by these ideas) but, I was concerned that the festival was under threat. It was suggested that the festival tour various countries, opening in Vitebsk and closing in Kiev — or opening in Moscow and going to Bulgaria. However, thank Heaven, Alexander Lukashenko drew the line at the necessary moment. He loves the festival and stressed, ‘No, this is our festival and it’ll be held in Vitebsk’. All the debate ceased with his one comment. I’m doubly happy that the festival has its homeland.
The Vitebsk festival is a tradition now; wise people don’t violate traditions. They say that, during the Slavonic Bazaar, even the sky over Vitebsk is special.
Not only the sky. Even the air is special, as if it is filled with joy. People are also special during these days. Something mystical is present.
Which song festival can the Slavonic Bazaar be compared with?
I travel a great deal but I can’t compare it with any other festival. Many places have a festival, a summer amphitheatre and a stadium for concerts but few people are aware of such festivals. If you travel a mere 10–20km away, you’ll meet people who are completely unaware of the holiday nearby. This doesn’t happen in Belarus. Recently, I stopped at a roadside cafй for a cup of coffee and I was offered some pots and mugs as souvenirs of the ‘Slavonic Bazaar’. Very beautiful!
There are plenty of opportunities to occupy oneself in Vitebsk — from concerts to exhibitions e.g. at the Marc Chagall Museum. Photo exhibitions are popular at that time and folk craftsmen create their masterpieces. Children draw on asphalt while jazz bands play music (my husband was delighted by one such concert). Moreover, you can easily have a snack at a reasonable price.
I’ve heard that there’s a creative festival currency…
We use ‘vasilki’ (cornflowers) notes. They look like real money and have several degrees of protection, being printed at the same place as Belarusian banknotes. They are the same size and are inscribed ‘vasilki’. Foreigners usually take their remaining Br10–20 notes home as souvenirs to show friends and relatives.
Have you heard compliments from foreign guests and participants? What do they most enjoy at the festival?
They are most delighted with the organisation. Comfortable accommodation is important and the professionalism of those working in the festival directorship headquarters is of the highest standard. Everyone treats those arriving in Vitebsk so well that people feel like welcome guests. Everyone is promptly accommodated in the Vitebsk, Dvina and Vetraz hotels. A great number are welcomed and seen off every day. It’s difficult to understand how staff manage to cope with such a heavy workload; they don’t sleep for several days yet they always welcome you with a smile, saying, ‘Hello! Welcome! Please, come in! Tea? Coffee? Your hotel is…’. I always wonder how these young girls manage to stay fresh and cheerful.
I’ve also heard compliments regarding the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival and the ‘live’ singing. I also admire these aspects myself. It’s wonderful! My soul delights in hearing young artists sing, accompanied by our National Concert Orchestra, conducted by maestro Mikhail Finberg. The National Days of Russia and Ukraine always gather a great many people. The contest of young pop performers brings together representatives from various countries and is the engine of our festival. It’s prestigious for artists to conduct a jubilee evening or artistic concert during the festival. This summer, I heard the ‘Turetsky Choir’ — as part of their major European tour. Those who’d seen the concert at the Kremlin noted that the performance at the Summer Amphitheatre was much better. It was sung very powerfully!
Does the festival engender friendships between countries?
The number is constantly rising. Several years ago, we first welcomed Australia and New Zealand, which performed exotic shows. Last year, the festival hosted a fabulous Chinese circus, whose wonderful artists performed miracles. This year, we were surprised by Venezuela.
You’ve conducted young pop performer contests for several years. Is there a language barrier?
There are no problems with language. After an artist sings, they await the jury’s assessment and are nervous. Even if you address them in their native language, they hardly understand you. Later, you can talk to them. Moreover, people who attend the festival usually know at least one Slavonic language. We can understand Polish and Czech languages; we don’t need to speak English. According to the festival rules, the performance of a Slavonic hit from a previous year is obligatory. When rehearsing, the performers usually grasp and remember some words and phrases. When we visit another country, we are interested in its language and remember something. Smiles, hand shaking and a nod are also important…
The festival’s European level is generally recognised. How is it expressed?
Let’s begin with the venue: its location, architecture and landscape are unrivalled worldwide. We boast the latest technical equipment and our stage has contemporary television technique. I repeat, as soon as you cross the door of the directorship’s headquarters at 1 Mayakovsky Street, you immediately feel that everything here is working trouble-free.
What friends have you made at the festival?
For me, the ‘Slavonic Bazaar’ means meetings with old friends rather than new acquaintances. Undoubtedly, you see young performers for the first time, but this is another type of communication.
What can you say about this year’s laureates?
There were many young people (primarily boys) from all around the world. One boy from Moldova was particularly good. I also liked one from Macedonia; I heard him two days in a row and he did well. Personally, I liked charismatic Lithuanian Jeronimas Milius, who received one point less than the boy from Ukraine, who came third. However, the third prize was divided between the two of them, testifying to the jury’s flexibility. Of course, only the one who receives the Grand Prix is absolutely content.
Is it true that Slavonic Bazaar magically influences all those who arrive in Vitebsk?
It’s absolutely true. It’s another characteristic of the festival. Past visitors always return, as they fall in love with the atmosphere of the holiday and miss it greatly. I understand them, because I also want to come back here.
By Valentina Zhdanovich