The London Journalist was honoured to send Laurenzo W. Mefsut, our trusted correspondent-at-large overseas to report on the 2018 Verbier Festival and attend a press conference held by the Tsinandali Festival, Georgia in announcement and celebration of an important milestone: the appointment of superstar conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, as their musical director for 2019.
Transalpine Summit: Announcement of Tsinandali Festival, Georgia at Verbier Festival.
The symphony orchestra is one of the most sophisticated, finely honed machines ever invented by man to harness one of our most advanced technologies – harmony. Conductors through the ages have testified that being at the helm of a great orchestra gives the same thrill of power as a captain gets taking the helm of a great ship or jet – the tamed beast undulating beneath him, at his command. But for some reason, many of the pinnacle achievements of our civilisation (not expressed in terms of technology) have been parked for a long time in a cul-de-sac called “culture” – their value flattened, measured in purely instrumental monetary terms using metrics of their contribution to economic growth or tourism. As the great Shakespearean actor, Mark Rylance, told us, ‘we live in a wider context than the minister for finance in our governments would like us to believe. No, seriously, if you had a friend who only talked about economics all the time you were with them you wouldn’t stay friends very long, and yet (and yet) we’re convinced that’s the only thing we’re meant to be concerned about in our society.’
At its best, harmony is a universal language which can unite people of disparate origins, providing them a medium to communicate with one another beyond words and to come to a common understanding – what Kant called a sensus communis, a community of feeling. Our coming together in an aesthetic understanding, far from being contingent or decorative or secondary to how our civilisation works, forms in his view the most necessary model of how we can come to relate to one another on the territory of ethics and on politics towards the public good. Harmony is a great teacher, expressing our finest ambitions to pursue the integration of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good, and to love our fellow man and organise our lives towards those ends. Harmony is, however, not only an inspiration, but a great medicine: for the performer and for the audience; a healer for the body; for the spiritual body; and, beyond the individual, for the body-politic.
In Verbier, couched on high among the Transalpine clifftops, bathed in a rosy warming light, on the evening of Thursday, 02.08.18, the stars aligned to show us that example as the great maestro, Simon Rattle, directed the resident Verbier Festival Symphony Orchestra – all the best and brightest of youth talent from around the globe – in a transcendental performance of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. I have never heard better expressed the yearning of Beethoven for a Promethean gift to humanity which makes him the greatest of composers. The struggle. The fire. The need. The joy and the darkness. Bringing thousands of people gathered together in a single harmony.
The Lightbringing of Prometheus is the touchstone of this 25th Anniversary of The Verbier Festival, and of its newly-announced twin, the fortnight-long, 40-concert Tsinandali Festival, Georgia, which will be inaugurated on 08.09.2019 – 22.09.2019. Nearby to its home – the Tsinandali Estate – in the Caucasus mountains, the ‘Pillars of the World’ according to the Ancient Greeks, the Titan Prometheus – or in the local Georgian retelling the Demiurge Amirani – is still chained in eternal torment high on a rock, his liver torn out of him every day by an eagle of Zeus – regenerating every night only to be eaten again the next day – in punishment for his defiance of the gods by stealing fire and giving it to man it as a gift to bring about civilisation.
The Tsinandali Foundation brought together on Thursday morning at the sunny eagle’s nest of the Chalet d’Adrien, Verbier, a grand coalition of Georgian philanthropists; alongside the Georgian government, represented by His Excellency David Jalagania, Georgian Ambassador to Switzerland; music impresarios, in the founders of the Verbier Festival – Avi Shoshani and Martin Engstroem; and the world-renowned conductor, Maestro Gianandrea Noseda, newly appointed Director of Music at Tsinandali. The Foundation, driven by its own Promethean Titan, George Ramishvili, Chairman of The Silk Road Group, embodies the notion that the value of music is not reducible to an entry on a balance sheet, and synthesises all of the above principles to coalesce, through its Tsinandali Music Academy, a pan-Caucasian Youth Orchestra modelled on the youth orchestra which each year emerges from the masterclasses at Verbier. Tsinandali will bring a generation of young music prodigies from across the Caucasus, the Caspian, the ‘Stans – and out into the Steppes of Asia – together to study for the duration of the Festival under the tutelage of international music masters to foster peace and harmony in the region. Noseda understands the great leveller that technical excellence demands – ‘when you sit with your partner at the music desk, you serve the music together’ – the democracy of harmony a mirror held up to the harmony of democracy so it can see itself. He also saw the presence of fire – the students bringing their fire for the masters to temper and guide towards the Good.
Georgia is a region which has served as a custodian of our shared ancient heritage for millennia: from its uniquely preserved Kartvelian or Iberian language, a close cousin of our ancestral Proto- Indo-European root language, isolated in its mountain seat; to its megalithic monuments whose engineering feats elude us still; to its 8,000 year old qvevri clay pot winemaking and viticulture; to its spirit of hospitality to travellers along the ancient silk road, with Noseda on visiting having been ‘treated like a prince’, and being moved to utter an Italian heresy – that he felt he had never tasted fruit before – that Georgia has preserved archaic purity in agriculture forgotten in the west, made testament in the taste of their tomatoes and strawberries, vegetable gold. That spirit of stewardship animates the Festival Advisory Board – Shoshani anticipating Turks and Armenians, Israelis and Iranians, Abkhazians and Ossetians, Russians and Georgians seeing eye-to-eye as sovereign peoples sharing in a single regional harmony.
The ambition at Tsinandali, according to Ramishvili, is ‘to establish a meaningful and sustainable cultural and educational centre in Georgia’. He is too modest. Rightly, the Tsinandali Estate will on 27.10.2018 be reestablishing itself in a new incarnation of its perennial role as a salón at the confluence of Eastern and Western Civilisation along the silk road. From the 1690s through the 19th century the Estate was the seat of the Chavchavadze dynasty and its Romantic poet polymath Prince Alexander, and played host to luminaries such as Dumas and Pushkin. Thanks to Alexander’s worldliness, Tsinandali also served as the portal for technological innovations from Europe: bringing Georgia’s first printing press, grand piano, English landscape garden, and French bottling and barrelling techniques in winemaking during the Napoleonic era.
It is Ramishvili’s aim to revive that spirit of the salón, which was in evidence at the Verbier gathering, with spirited discussion on contemporary topics: of adapting Smart Cities programmes to the topography and resources of Tsinandali to pilot Smart Regions; the blockchain securitisation of art, wine, and violins to transform cultural assets into vessels of the public good held democratically by custodians in a Smart Trust; and the application of the economist Naseem Taleb’s concept of antifragility to sustainable development in Georgia. Diplomacy was conducted and partnerships were forged.
After 10 years of redevelopment by The Silk Road Group, including the curation of Georgia’s most visited museum at 120,000 annual visitors, and a revived ancient winery, Tsinandali’s 1,000 seat amphitheatre, built en plain air out of a ruined stone wine factory, was inaugurated last September by maestro Zubin Mehta. This coming October the reprise is hotly anticipated internationally as Ramishvili opens a vine-wreathed Radisson hotel on the site whose facilities include two restaurants, a vinotheque wine-tasting bar, a spa, and an outdoor infinity pool. Next year’s Tsinandali Festival will last 17 days – a marathon of music as at Verbier, which welcomes 63,000 guests – with sufficient time for the new generation of musical prodigies in residence to drink the spirit breathed by their masters.
At a crossroads on the ancient silk road, Tsinandali and Georgia stand ready to welcome the world. North, across the Caucasus mountains, lies Russia, south around the Black Sea, Turkey, east, the Caspian and Asia, and west lies Europe. At that meeting point, much as with Russia’s recent successes with international cultural summits at Sochi and with the World Cup, Georgia intends bring the region together to forge a future path, not with sport, but with music. The new Silk Road lies ahead of us and, while making that way, the forthcoming Tsinandali Festival of September 2019 will be the ideal forum for people of conscience to plot that future, guided by the governing harmony of the Classics, and looking towards a future of humanism that Beethoven would be proud to inspire.
Tsinandali Festival - www.tsinandalifestival.ge
The Silk Road - www.silkroadgroup.net
Verbier Festival - www.verbierfestival.com