Maria Kalesnikava the face of Belarus

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: ECLAT AGAIN ONLINE FROM 17.2. till 21.2.!

Gabrielle Weber
The contemporary music festival Eclat Stuttgart is taking place online with extensive focus dedicated to the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.   

Through Maria Kalesnikava, icon of the peaceful democracy movement since September 2020 and currently in prison, the conflict has a strong connection to the Stuttgart cultural scene. As musician, educator, mediator and organiser, she was active here for many years and will be awarded the Human Rights Prize 2021 by the Gerhart and Renate Baum Foundation during the festival.   

Maria Kalesnikava ©zVg Eclat / Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart

Echoes – Voices from Belarus, is a project gathering short artistic statements on the conflict by Belarusian and international artists.   

Two Swiss composers, Andreas Eduardo Frank and Oscar Bianchi, are part of this initiative and I discussed their work for Eclat with them. 

I met Oscar Bianchi in his studio in Berlin via Zoom. This renowned and internationally active composer with roots in Ticino has been associated with the Festival Eclat for a long time and presented new pieces in Stuttgart time and again.   

Bianchi explains that his project on Belarus has a background history. Traumatised by the tragic death of George Floyd through police violence and the related media coverage, he processed his concern into a short piece in the summer of 2020, addressing not only racial discrimination, but oppression and brutality in general. 

Oscar Bianchi ©Philippe Stirnweiss

When asked by Christine Fischer, artistic director of Eclat Stuttgart, about the Belarus project, Bianchi suggested a different take on the piece. “I want to emphasise and contribute by stressing that any form of brutality and oppression can not be tolerated,” he says. 


Oscar Bianchi, With you, World creation Murten Classics 2020

Fischer herself initiated the project out of personal concern, as one of the main leaders of the Belarusian democratic movement, Maria Kalesnikava, had been active in the Stuttgart cultural scene for many years, as musician, teacher and project manager, e.g. at the Musikhochschule as well as the Eclat festival.   

Before returning to Belarus for another assignment, where she immediately joined the democratic movement, quickly becoming one of its leading figures, Kalesnikava was in charge of Eclat festival’s social media activities. Together with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the opposition and close collaborator Veronika Zepkalo, she is vividly remembered for close collaborator various appearances on democratic movement podiums. She was abducted on September 8, 2020 and is in prison ever since.

Maria Kalesnikava with Swetlana Tichanowskaja and Veronika Zepkalo at protests in Minsk ©zVg Eclat / Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart

When Maria Kalesnikava, whom Bianchi knew well from the Eclat Festival, was imprisoned, it became apparent, that the Belarusian government was counting on the time factor and relying on the fact that media would be fading, so Bianchi. This makes such cultural actions all the more important to keep up the debate and raise people’s awareness. 

‘The balaclava – symbol of institutionalised power and oppression’.   

Bianchi teamed up with Belarusian video artist Vasilisa Palianina. In their joint work, they explored the image of police troops in full combat gear and balaclava, representing the omnipresent, violent threat in Belarus and other comparable conflicts. The anonymity of the balaclava is a symbol for loss of transparency, accountability and institutionalised power and oppression. And everything happens secretly.   

“The images and sound together tell their own story,” says Bianchi about the common work. 

Voices from Belarus also features Basel composer Andreas Eduardo, whose theatrical music often includes video and multimedia. For the Belarus project, he composed music to a video.  

He too, has been associated with the Stuttgart cultural scene for a long time and initiated – ‘ SuperSafeSociety’ an online Corona project exploring new digital participatory concert formats during the first Lockdown. The result was an online music theatre, taking place individually for each audience member. For this reason artistic director Christine Fischer approached him about the Belarus project. Especially in times of Corona, the Belarus project is also an opportunity to promote and support oppressed Belarus artists, says Frank, and that’s why he immediately accepted.  

Andreas Eduardo Frank ©Andreas Eduardo Frank

Frank worked with Maria Kalesnikava in this environment. And he was not surprised to suddenly see her at the forefront of the democratic movement. Maria has incredible charisma and appeal, which is inspiring and very media-effective.     

For his contribution, Frank teamed up with the Belarusian video artist Mikhail Gulin, completing his video Sisiphus with a soundtrack consisting of eight eight self-pronounced words: “exploit / hurt / fought / suppressed / punished / choked / repeat / proceed”. 

Frank extracted these words out of conversations with Gulin: “There is the complex of Sisiphus and then there is the complex of Belarus and the commitment to it. Come together in the artistic commentary,” Frank explains. The parallels between Sisiphus and being an artist are, plain to see, such as the permanent struggle or the artists’ being at the mercy of the powerful state machinery.   

“exploit / hurt / fought / suppressed / punished / choked / repeat / proceed”  

Frank fed the words into a sampler and then improvised to the video with a small electronic setup, distorting the words, played them faster or slower, filtering them. “This resulted in sounds like those of ‚driven pigs’ or stifled breathing next to recognisable words. Then there is also a trace of bitter irony: the violent words take on a new semantic, combined with the image of hay bales being pushed around,” says Frank.   

Andreas Eduardo Frank& Mikhail Gulin: Sisiphos, UA Eclat Stuttgart 2021

The project also significantly increased Frank’s own awareness of the conflict. “Here we are, actually doing very well – and the people there are being abducted and tortured, they simply disappear”. He remembers an encounter right before the completion of the project: Frank had finished his part, but Gulin hadn‘t yet. Whereupon Gulin told him: “Today, a close friend, was taken to the police. People are imprisoned, abducted, beaten. The judicial system does not work.“
Gabrielle Weber

Frauenpower und mediale Aufmerksamkeit in Belarus, September 2020 ©zVg Eclat/Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart

Several formats address the Belarusian conflict at Eclat Festival: 
Friday, 5.2. Echoes – Voices from Belarus: Co-productions of Belarusian with international artists and musicians/composers.

Sunday, 7.2., 17h: Awarding of the Human Rights Award 2021 by the Gerhart and Renate Baum Foundation to Maria Kalesnikava, combined with Trio vis à vis (Kalesnikavas Trio) concert. The award is conferred by former Federal Minister Gerhard Baum and received by Kalesnikava’s sister Tatsiana Khomich.

3.-7.2.: digital exhibition, Belarus – the way to oneself: to be walked through online during the festival.

The 41st edition of ECLAT will offer 13 most live-streamed concerts with exclusively digital pieces and numerous world premieres, as well as interviews, chats, discussions, games and much more. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: ECLAT AGAIN ONLINE FROM 17.2. till 21.2.!
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Belarus – short reminder: In August 2020, authoritarian head of state Lukashenko confirmed himself as president after democratic elections, although civil rights activist and opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had won the majority. The EU did not recognise the results. Tikhanovskaya is now in exile in Lithuania and her collaborator Veronika Zepkalo in Poland. Maria Kalesnikava was arrested in Minsk on September 8, after resisting deportation. She is still in pre-trial detention.   

On 27 January 2021, Amnesty International denounced torture in Belarus. 
‘Musik der Jahrhunderte’ / Eclat has been working together with human rights organisations and with political support since September 2020 to secure her release.  

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Eclat / Musik der Jahrhunderte, Trio vis à vis, Mikhail Gulin, Vasilisa Palianina

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kultur aktuell / Kultur kompakt Podcast, 4.2.21: editorial Theresa Beyer, critique concert Voice Affairs / Festival Eclat

Kultur aktuell / Kultur kompakt Podcast, 5.2.21: editorial Gabrielle Weber, Portrait Maria Kalesnikava / Festival Eclat

in Musik Magazin, 6.2./7.2.12: editorial Moritz Weber, feature by Gabrielle Weber, Portrait Maria Kalesnikava / Festival Eclat

Neo-Profiles: Andreas Eduardo Frank, Oscar Bianchi

Out of the box

Interview with Oscar Bianchi, Artistic Director of the International Young Composers Academy at “Ticino Musica” Festival.

Out of the box: Bianchi@Musica viva, Munich, May 2018 © Astrid Ackermann

Gabrielle Weber
Classical compositions combined with trans-disciplinary formats as well as Dance build the cornerstones of the third International Young Composers Academy within the scope of the “Ticino Musica” festival, while Dmitri Kourliandski and the Ensemble Modern Frankfurt provide for international appeal.
In this interview, Oscar Bianchi talks about some defining aspects of the Composers Academy.

Oscar, three years ago you took over the artistic direction of the International Young Composers Academy from its founder, Mathias Steinauer – tell us about the innovations you introduced?
Since 2018 we have been inviting an established contemporary music ensemble. In addition, each year the focus will be on a different format. This year we will host the Ensemble Modern Frankfurt.

How did the collaboration with Ensemble Modern come about and what is this year’s format?
I already know the ensemble’s energy and commitment from previous collaborations, for example the project Connect in Frankfurt 2016, that was focusing on the interaction between composer, ensemble and audience.

“Personal experience is my filter to bring aboard the right partners.”

The ensemble’s members have a clear musical vision combined with stylistic openness, but most important they are curious regarding young composers’ works and research.

Two categories have been considered for the competition: instrumental works and multidisciplinary projects. There will be two corresponding concerts and we received over 100 applications. Together with Olga Neuwirth, head of the jury, 14 composers from all over the world… Taiwan, Iran, South and North America, Europe or South Africa have been selected and thanks to our collaboration with the “TicinoInDanza“ festival they will get the opportunity to work with dancers and choreographers. These kind of experiences and encounters lead to new perspectives.

“It is important for composers to think “out of the box”.”

14 composers are quite a few. Can you tell us more about workflow and collaborations?
(laughs) Not to mention ten further passive observers…
We explicitly focus on working as a group, which benefits both the music and the exchange of ideas and experiences. Elitist, competitive thinking, in order to elect a winner is not our goal.

“The key concept is “collective project”. Group over elite.”

There will be various conferences and lectures, from which everyone can profit, i.e. with Dmitri Kourliandski and other guests like Katharina Rosenberger or Michael Wertmüller.
Nevertheless, a particularly good composition sticks in one’s mind, goes without saying.

Ensemble Modern &Oscar Bianchi ©Walter Vorjohann

What kind of venues did you pick for these two different concert formats?
The “classical” contemporary Concert is going to be held in the LAC’s (Lugano Arte e Cultura) “foyer”, a venue conceived for various artistic activities as well as crossroad for locals and tourists to meet, whereas the multidisciplinary concert will take place in Mendrisio’s “Chiostro dei Serviti”, an outdoor courtyard.

Couldn’t this choice of a courtyard performance in Mendrisio turn out to be risky? The contemporary music community in Ticino is rather small.
The concert is scheduled to be part of the “Musica nel Mendrisiotto” festival, a recurring event that can rely on an interested and already established public, furthermore its visual components, as well as interactions with other art forms make it suitable for a broader audience.

“The contemporary music scene on a level playing field. That would be my dream.”

Concert Int. Composers Academy 2018, Mendrisio Museo Vela ©Ticino Musica

Do you have other plans and visions for the Composers Academy – where do you see further development potential?
Thanks to the support of the “Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne”, we have been able to invite a top ensemble and award scholarships. My vision would be to make the Academy available free of charge, including travel and accommodation, so that participation would be open to all. Contemporary Music is part of a restrictive system that can lead to exclusion. I’m determined to stop this kind of discrimination.
Interview Gabrielle Weber

Festival Ticino musica, Concerts:
27 Luglio 2019, 18:00, Ticino Musica, Mendriso, Chiostro dei Serviti
28 Luglio 2019,  21:00, Ticino Musica, Lugano, LAC

Synergies: Musica nel Mendrisiotto, TicinoInDanza

neo-profilesOscar BianchiEnsemble Modern, Ticino Musica, Mathias Steinauer, Katharina Rosenberger