St. Petersburg has swelled with music for centuries, and produced some of the world’s biggest musical names. With remnants of its past scene mixing with the new talents of today, the city is a must-visit destination for music-lovers
For more than two centuries, some of the world’s biggest musical talents have been coming out of St. Petersburg. Peter Tchaikovsky, for example, graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1865 and, nine days before his death in 1893, was back in the city conducting his ‘Symphony No.6, Pathetique’. The memory of opera singer Fyodor Chaliapin and ballerina Anna Pavlova lingers on too at the Mariinsky Theatre, where they both performed during the start of the 20th century.
Today, the music scene is still alive and well in St. Petersburg; the beautiful strains of music both old and new rings through the halls of the city’s grandiose historical buildings, bringing them to life once again. The city’s cultural hub is undoubtedly the Arts Square, where there seems to be a museum, theatre or concert hall in almost every building. The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra occupies a grand, neoclassic building, which was at the centre of musical culture in the second half of the 19th century, and attracted some of the greatest musicians of the time, including Liszt, Wagner and Mahler. Back to this century, and the world-famous orchestra, renowned soloists and festivals of all genres, and music competitions all happen here.
Cross the square and you’ll find the Mikhailovsky Theatre, one of St. Petersburg’s most prestigious musical theatres. At Christmastime, The Nutcracker ballet there is a must-see, while the theatre’s production of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin is well worth watching too.
Jazz fans should visit the Jazz Philharmonic Hall, with its chilled-out atmosphere, or one of the city’s many jazz clubs.
For something a little different, head to the Mariinsky Theatre, which is made up not only of the original building, but also a modern concert hall and the Mariinsky II. The theatre’s principal conductor and art director, Valery Gergiev, is not bound by tradition, and instead experiments freely with musical trends from the world over. As a result, the playbill for each of the three stages feature a wide variety of acts.
With so much music filling its streets, it’s only to be expected that St. Petersburg sees its fair share of music festivals. The famous Musical Olympus International Festival, held in May, brings young musicians from all over the world to the city; the Stars of the White Nights festival, held at the Mariinsky II and produced by Gergiev, lasts through June and July and brings an itinerary of classical ballet, opera and orchestral performances; for jazz lovers, there’s the Usadba Jazz festival, and those who prefer electro will enjoy Stereoleto; December brings with it the International Winter Festival – Arts Square, organised by the Philharmonic Hall, while in August there’s Music on the Neva.
What makes St. Petersburg so great for music-loving visitors is that, with all this and more, you can go on a musical journey in a day. If you start with a matinee performance at the Michailovsky Theatre, one of Russia’s oldest opera and ballet houses, you can make it in time for a 4pm organ concert or wander into one of the buildings in the Arts Square for a vocal recital. Then, end the day with an 8pm performance in Mariinsky II or the Philharmonic Hall to finish off a head-spinning tour of St. Petersburg’s music scene.
Good to know
Music on the Neva, 28 August
The festival will be held at historical center of St. Petersburg, including St.Isaac’s Square, Ostrovskogo Square, Konyushennaya Square. The final gala concert will take place on the stage located by the historical building of the Stock Exchange on the stage with a great view, and will be followed by the magnificent fireworks. All concerts are open to the public.
72 hours without a visa
City guests who arrive in St. Petersburg by sea enjoy the privilege of visiting the city without having to file for a visa. For visa-free entry for up to 72 hours all year round, use the regular Helsinki – St. Petersburg connections by St. Peter Line ferryboat, or choose one of the multitude of Baltic Sea cruises.