The view from the "nosebleed" section - the sound was still good, though!

International Jazz Festival in Vladivostok

Published: December 20, 2011

VIII Международный джазовый фестиваль / VIII International Jazz Festival 
Приморская Краевая Филармония / Primorskyi Krai Philharmonic
Светланская ул., 15 / Svetlanskaya Street, 15
Tickets: 300 – 3000 Rubles

As a former trombone player who has dabbled in a little jazz over the years, I was excited to hear that Vladivostok holds a yearly International Jazz Festival. I even started planning for it before getting here. But, along with my feelings of excited anticipation, there was also a hint of skepticism. Historically, jazz was demonized by the government during the Soviet Union, labeled as “vulgar” and “demoralizing.” Given this record with jazz, I was worried that the festival wouldn’t bring in a huge crowd and would end up generally unappreciated.

I attended the fourth day of the festival at Vladivostok’s philharmonic concert hall, located on Vladivostok’s main street, Svetlanskaya. I’d recently attended a performance of the opera The Marriage of Figaro, so I considered myself to be a part of Vladivostok’s historic intelligentsia (unfortunately, those intellectual circles don’t really exist here anymore). Purchasing a ticket was a breeze. I went to the касса (ticket booth) and told the woman I wanted a 500 ruble ticket. She then showed me the seats available for that amount and I simply pointed, paid my money, and went to the concert hall.

From my seat in the balcony, I was surprised to see that nearly all of the seats were sold out. The performance started shortly thereafter, and began with two Russian groups, the first of which was a teenage boy and girl, who performed a vocal duet. The second group was a quartet (piano, guitar, bass, and drum set), who performed a few short sets. I was really impressed with their improvisation. The group had some real creativity.

After the opening acts, the hall started to buzz with excitement in anticipation for the main event, an American jazz quartet featuring Ron “Black Trombone” Wilkins and Valeri Grohovski (piano). The group came out to enthusiastic applause and began their first song. I was instantly entranced, tapping my foot and swaying side to side. Halfway through the song, I noticed that no one else was really reacting to the music. I chalked it up to just a difference in cultures. But, after an amazing solo from the “Black Trombone,” the hall went crazy, cheering and clapping as loud as any American audience. The main act last about 80 minutes, and during that time I realized that Russia has just as great of an appreciation for jazz music as America. I even ran into one of my teachers after the concert, and we talked a bit about how much we liked the music.

For anyone who is lucky enough to be in town during this festival, I highly recommend grabbing a cheap seat up in the balcony. While none of the groups are known world-wide, they are undoubtedly talented. Even if you can’t get to this particular festival, make a stop at the philharmonic. It doesn’t look like much from outside (it actually looks like every other building surrounding it), but the concert hall was recently renovated and is absolutely gorgeous inside. They have major performances once or twice a week and tickets can be as little as 300 rubles for an orchestra concert. Not only will you see a good performance, but you’ll get the feeling of what it was like to be a part of Vladivostok’s музыкльнодраматический кружок (music and drama club).

About the author

Michael Smeltzer

Michael Smeltzer has degrees in Russian Language and Philosophy from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. He has previously studied abroad in Irkutsk and is currently spending an academic year in Vladivostok as part of SRAS's Home and Abroad program.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar: $10,000 to Study Abroad

View all posts by: Michael Smeltzer