Stéphane – from France to Russia
Stéphane Grosclaude from Plate-forme interrégionale (FR) visiting the Centre of International Cooperation „Inter Aspect“ (RU) in August 2018.
“ECA-EC has implemented a Staff exchange program since the beginning of 2018, in the frame of which Stéphane Grosclaude, Coordinator of Plate-forme interégionale – France, was able to spend a week with the organizing team of Singing World, a festival and competition led by the company Interaspect.
Presentation of the festival and the competition
The fraternal and international spirit of this event is a great experience for choirs who wish to apply for (optional and combinable choice) participating in a competition, offering concerts in town and in the region, benefiting from master classes with renowned conductors.
The groups are thus free to organize the artistic and educational menu of their stay, which is proposed for a full board package from € 206 to € 350, depending on the category of accommodation ask for.
The choirs indicate beforehand what they wish and are able to do, according to the proposed themes (sacred music, contemporary, mixed voices …) and if they wish to participate in concerts and/or master-classes. An Artistic Committee then contacts each ensemble to develop a program that crosses ages, styles and musical genres.
35 choirs from 17 countries participated in this 16th edition of Singing World, with a great diversity of profiles: young, adults, seniors, equal or mixed choirs … and very varied repertoires from all over the world. The contest includes 12 categories, with the possibility to run in several in parallel.
The professional exchange program
In this context, I was involved in all the stages of the competition and in the jury meetings (excluding the deliberations), with the possibility of attending master classes and concerts, but also friendly diners with the jury and guests, which where good moments of socialization and networking.
Above all, I must emphasize the quality of welcome, kindness and constant attention that everyone had to me. Russian hospitality is really not a legend and I want to express my gratitude to the entire festival team, the jury members and my translator, without whom I would not have seized ten per cent of what was said and happened!
The program consisted mostly in the observation of the festival and the master-classes, but mostly of the different steps of the competition, while I learned a lot on the way to organize a relevant and inclusive event. French people and choirs are not used to festivals, and even less in competitions; the Florilège vocal de Tours is the main choir competition in France, and choirs are more into direct exchange with another choir than in participating in festivals. Thus benefiting from the staff exchange program was a very inspiring opportunity, also in terms of creating contacts to eastern European countries which is not so easy in the regular events and networks in which my organisation is involved.
Before starting the auditions, some instructions and recommendations were given to the jury members.
Each of them has an evaluation sheet to write down their own assessments that they will keep and which will be a support for the comments they can give to the conductors at the end of the contest. Final evaluations are postponed after each sequence on a single sheet given to the secretary of the jury, in order to total the points, step by step.
The choirs are numbered in order of passage and not necessarily by category, because of the logistical organization of the festival and the possibilities of travel. It is a little disturbing to move from one category to another, especially for the jury, but it allows to relativize the evaluation of each set, beyond the categorical criteria.
The jury was asked to make their first assessment only once the 3rd choir has performed, to get a global idea of what they are singing and the quality of the performances, thus having a step back for the evaluation.
In each category, a maximum of 25 points is awarded for each of the 10 criteria of the grid (presentation, musicality, staging …), for a total of 250 points for the entire category. This system is a good way to give a distant evaluation and a clear undeniable ranking of the choirs in each category.
The musical program, for a maximum of 10 minutes (the overtaking was sanctioned by a drop of points) had to include a minimum of 3 pieces, including one of a composer from the origin country of the choir composed before 1945 (1969 for the modern music), another after 1945 (after 2000 for modern music) and a foreign piece. At least one of the three pieces must be A Capella.
There are three prices in each category, but only the choirs that get the most points in each category are selected for the grand prize, competed in a public concert format. Thus the audience is also allowed to award a Public prize to the best choir.
Special prizes are also awarded for different themes (Russian composer, foreigner composer, young people, folklore music, best conductor, best soloist …) to give satisfaction to the greatest number of choirs and conductors, with a benevolent appreciation. In fact, there were far more prizes than choirs and everyone left with more than one trophy.
The conductors were received by the jury after the end of the first round and before the Grand prize, to give them advice and appreciations on the auditions.
The timing of the auditions was carried out to perfection, with a precise and respected timing of the entrance, the time of passage, return in box guided by volunteers.
Two members of the jury (out of 3 planned) offered a master class for adult choirs and children’s choirs on predefined repertoires that the ensembles worked on beforehand. Five choirs took part in the first and two Chinese children choirs in the second.
The format of one hour just gives time to propose some warm-ups and to work the vocal color on a part of a piece, in particular for the one whose score worked by the choir was not that transmitted by the conductor … However, he was able to improvise and ensure a very good maser-class.
More than 15 concerts were scheduled throughout the city and surrounding areas, most of them were in churches and also in the State Chapel, a beautiful concert hall in the 1900’s style, where the Grand Prize and the Closing Ceremony took place.
These two concerts are highly expected by the local audience, who reserve a long time in advance and willingly participate in the awarding of a Public prize. The choice is rather difficult, as much because of the diversity of the ensembles which presented all the profiles of choirs, as of the duration of the set, consisting of a single piece of a maximum 5 minutes performance.
As for the competition, it’s more the participation and the pleasure of the music that matter here. That said, the prizes awarded are entirely legitimate.
The festival team counts a huge number of people:
- 10 permanent employees who are also working on the implementation of other festivals,
- 50 volunteers for logistics during the festival period.
- 50 volunteers also participate in related activities, such as guides for excursions and visits offered during the stay of the choirs.
Choral practice and choir conducting in Russia
The context and evolution of collective vocal practice in Russia is difficult to grasp. A discussion with the director of the festival and with some local young choir conductors has brought together some elements of the landscape, without the possibility to verifying what is concretely on the ground.
The choirs: It seems that amateur practice has been largely developed in recent years and still developing, with a number of choirs that evolve outside the liturgical repertoires.
There are mainly symphonic choirs attached to orchestras and amateur choirs, mainly senior ones.
The teaching of choir conducting also seems well structured and, according to the director of the festival, the trained conductors find work easily after a teaching that is organized in eight years. Positions are rather scarce in the big cities where the greatest conductors are established, but there are apparently many young graduates who return to their homeland to work on an existing choir, or creating new ones, which seems to be easy to organize with communities. This is not necessarily the intention of some young conductors, who would like to stay in larger institutions and cities and feel that there are too many trained conductors. There are 2 conducting classes in St. Petersburg, one at the Music College (Conservatory) and the other at the Pedagogical Institute, headed by Sergey Equimov, the artistic director of the festival. 10 to 15 students a year are graduates within the 2 higher courses, which can seem to be a lot in absolute terms, but some complementary elements should be analyzed to get a clear idea on this topic.
Singing World is undoubtedly an experience to promote with French choirs, which are unfortunately poorly represented (3 have participated since the creation of the event).
Interaspect organizes other festivals in the year (http://interfestplus.ru/en), including:
- A festival of the Advent in December http://en.anticipationxmas.ru
- A new festival for orchestra that will take place in spring 2019,
- And of course, the 17th edition of Singing World which will take place from August 2nd to 7th, 2019.
The Plate-forme interrégionale can easily provide a relay of information, especially with translations into French of texts that the festival management can transmit.
We are dealing here with the major problem of the language because the number of anglophones is quite low, even among the youngest, not to mention the francophones …
However, this stay in Saint-Petersburg was a great opportunity to meet new people and organisations, and also gave inspiration for further cooperation in a long term process, which is required in order to understand the different cultures, ways of cooperating, and thus relevant projects to implement.”