Turning his vision into a remarkable reality is what packed 1000 people into this groundbreaking event.
In collaboration with the Georgian National Tourism Administration, the Ministry of Economy, and Silk Road Group, Tatishev’s vision came to fruition on 14 September 2018 with the inaugural concert that took place over 15 days and is intended to be held annually moving forward. The historic village of Tsinandali, in Georgia’s famous winemaking province of Kakheti, played host to the first classical music festival of its kind in the country. A concert hall to seat 1000, an open Amphitheatre, a 60-room hotel, a conference hall and a multi-functional facility all were built in Tsinandali to accommodate the festival.
The brains behind the band
The festival was the brainchild of Yerkin Tatishev, founder and chairman of the Kusto Group – which invests in business development across four continents – and a contributor to the restoration of the Tsinandali Estate and vineyards. His vision, shared with his collaborators, and good friend and Silk Road Group general director Georgy Ramishvili, is to put Georgian musicians on the global stage, to be part of a full symphony orchestra, and to bolster the country as a whole.
Budding musicians from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Turkey have until 22 March 2019 to submit their applications, with auditions taking place in Almaty on 30 March. Successful applicants will have all expenses paid for the six weeks of mandatory rehearsal and participate in five performances at the festival. Under the direction of maestro Gianandrea Noseda, those selected will become part of the first ever Pan-Caucasian Youth Symphony Orchestra. Noseda has served as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC., and is currently principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, making him one of the most sought-after conductors in the world. The opportunity to play under his leadership will be life-changing for young musicians from the region.
As Tatishev later wrote on his blog: ‘This festival will give young musicians from around the region a unique opportunity to showcase their talents on one of the biggest stages. I believe that if you have the chance to give talented youngsters such an opportunity, then it is your duty to do so’. The initiative is also establishing an academy to be a permanent source of musical education for the youth of the region. In a follow-up interview, Tatishev stated that music is ‘the wealth of the soul, the wealth of the mind, and the wealth of society’, and that he ‘will promote Kazakhstan musicians with all my might’.
A result of the successful partnership between the state and private sector, the festival aims to promote young musicians from Georgia and neighboring countries, providing them with the opportunity to perform alongside world-renowned artists, while also promoting the region and all it has to offer. The vision and intention are an emergent and unique opportunity for young talents to reach a high international level, opening the door to the world of professional artistry.
Who has heard of Tsinindali?
Picturesque Tsinandali was home to Georgian prince and poet Alexander Chavchavadze (1786–1846), who was also the godson of Catherine the Great. Chavchavadze built his palace here in 1812, along with Georgia’s first winery, becoming the first ever Georgian to bottle estate wine. His winery still produces some of the region’s most famous white wine to this day. After World War II the palace and estate fell into disrepair until about a decade ago, when the Smithsonian Institution in collaboration with the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia began restoration of the property and transformed the palace into a museum. Since 2016, the estate recorded an average of 100,000 visitors a year.
The magic in the music
For its inaugural year, the festival starred the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) with 80-year-old Zubin Mehta at the helm as the orchestra’s music director, and featuring Georgian-born internationally renowned pianist Khatia Buniatishvili, who is famous for her exuberant performances. The second half of the evening’s music was dedicated to timeless pieces by Tchaikovsky, including Symphony No 5, Swan Lake, and No 2 Waltz.
The festival concluded with the Georgian and Israeli National Anthems, delivered with great emotion by Zubin Mehta. The mostly Georgian audience intermingled with a ‘Friends of the IPO’ contingent from England, Switzerland, France, and Israel, and were seen wiping away tears.
The IPO is in its 83rd year, 50 of which have seen Zubin Mehta as music director; in 1981, the IPO appointed him music director for life. As head of one of the world’s most prominent orchestra’s, Mehta must be incredibly proud; he is also conductor emeritus of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. However, in November 2018, Avi Shoshani, secretary general of the IPO, announced that Mehta will retire in 2020, and hand over his long reign of the IPO to Lahav Shani.
Georgia and Israel
Georgia and Israel formally established political, cultural, and commercial alliances in 1992, and bilateral tourism and air traffic agreements since 2010, although their history goes back much further; Jewish presence in Georgia can be traced as far back as the 6th century, the first Zionist organization in Georgia was founded in Tbilisi in 1897, and the All-Jewish Congress was held in Tbilisi in 1918.
Today, there are around 13,000 Jews in Georgia, and 120,000 Georgian Jews living in Israel. Israel stood by Georgia during the 2008 South Ossetia war, and Israeli special forces regularly engage in training operations with the Georgian military. Like Israel, Georgia is surrounded by strong, sometimes threatening, countries, and both have had to make their way in tough political neighborhoods. Perhaps it’s part of the reason that they each identify with the other’s struggles.
It’s a grape story
As far back as 6000 BC – 8,000 years ago – Georgians were making wine, meaning they may very well have invented it. The process, still used to this day, is to trample the grapes and then place everything – juice, skins, pips, and even the stalks – into a clay pot called a qvervi which is then buried in the ground. The result is an amber rather than white wine, unique in taste and endemic to Georgia. The qvervi is so entrenched in Georgian heritage that it was inscribed in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013. Now protected, no other country or wine producer may ever replicate it. Georgia boasts over 500 grape varieties, most of which grow nowhere else, and many are isolated to a single village, but only 40 of these are used for commercial wine production. Tsinindali in particular is known for its dry white wine, thanks to three exceptional varieties pioneered by Prince Alexander Chavchavadze – Saperavi, Rkatiseli and Mtsavane. In 2017, Georgian wine exports topped $124 million, roughly 15% going to Israel, and a whopping 58% to Russia. Georgia’s lush valleys and ideal climate make wine production a significant economic sector and has entwined wine into the national identity, making it no surprise that the country’s most historic wine estate played host to a historic musical event. In May 2018, the International Ski Federation announced Georgia as host country to the 2023 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships. Perhaps the Tsinindali Festival put Georgia on the map in even more ways than imagined.
Set against the backdrop of thousands of years of winemaking history, the project is inspired, further proof of the magical marriage between music and wine, and with its fantastic location and formidable talent, there is excitement and anticipation about what the festival will bring in 2019.