• Diary of my trip to Nerekhta, Russia

    I visited Nerekhta on the occasion of the Russian horn festival.
    There was a great expectation to participate in an event linked to popular traditions and to the dances of a population in which strong nature has shaped its character. I knew I was in a city between large forests and a vast plain. I was prepared to meet a population and a territory where music and dance are the mirror of their cultural identity. I am particularly attached to the folk traditions which I have been studying for many years; I am convinced that through music the strongest attachment to the territory is expressed. Folk music always hits the heart.

    After a long night journey by train from Moscow, here is Nerekhta!
    Waiting for us, Nastya Kurbakovskaya, who early in the morning and on a sunny day, mixed with thunderstorms, welcomes the small Western European group with immediate sympathy and friendship. It is as if I arrived at the country where I was born, when people welcome me and greet me cordially. The fatigue of the journey is already forgotten and the program is very dense; It is a great pleasure to face the day in the distant Kostroma Region. I had been asked what my tastes were on food and already, having breakfast at the Profilaktory Hotel, my “meeting” with Russian food began, to which I had expressed my preferences and my curiosity. Unfortunately I do not know the name of the dishes that in two days I taste with pleasure, but the memory of beautiful convivial moments remains between great food, pleasant conversation and the unavoidable excellent vodka.
    I meet Ludmila Osipova, artistic director of the Festival and honorable cultural figure of the Russian Federation, doctor in art, author and conductor of musical programs on “Radio Russia” in Moscow. I’ve known Ludmila for some time, who expresses to me words of admiration for Nerekhta and its inhabitants and describes the program of the festival in which she presents the theatrical show.
    I really feel at home!
    What’s more, it’s as if other people already knew me. In fact, Tatiana Kurbakovskaya approaches and says… “I suppose you’re Rocco …”. Hi, Tatiana!

    In short, a friendly atmosphere is immediately created among all those present and the visit of the city of which Tatiana offers suggestive corners begins. As a sociologist I am very happy to observe people, enter shops, enjoy a coffee and a typical Russian dessert, visit the open market while it is raining, or the old warehouses of the buildings that have become cozy shops today. I immediately confirm that nature has shaped the character of its inhabitants and I look forward to listening to musical rhythms that reflect the colors, the scents and the sensations felt along the walk. Tatiana leads the group by showing architectural aspects, traditional balconies and ancient windows and describes the city through customs and traditions.
    Finally the theater where, inside the foyer, there is an exhibition dedicated to the ancient instrument of shepherds with old photographs; a musical group welcomes guests to the sound of the Russian “rozhok” horn. It is the first time, it is an immense joy to dedicate ourselves to listening because I have before me the “famous” musical instrument on which in the previous months I had much fantasized. The sound immediately conquers those who for the first time hear it live. In fact, I try to listen to it with my eyes closed and imagine the life of the inhabitants in this boundless flat territory about 350 km north-east of Moscow; a territory that can be symbolically indicated as the meeting place of distant people and lands between the Asian East and the European West; where the melodies of the rozhok are laden with memory and nostalgia.
    I am eager to immerse myself in a music that arouses in me intense and aesthetic emotions; it is a music that brings back great passion for distant memories in which the history of the Russian people is rooted when – in the days of Tsar Peter the Great – music and dance were considered the means to give an identity to the Russian people. I use my mobile continuously to record and take photos.
    The rozhok just heard in the foyer of the Nerekhta theater is just a first taste.

    The evening show presented by Ludmila is a multifaceted kaleidoscope of music that makes the guests enter even more into a fantastic contact with the people of this boundless territory, whose traditions I had already conversed with other diners at lunch.
    The participation of two famous artists makes the show international with an occasional contamination of the Swiss horn, played by a world-famous Russian musician: Arkady Sylkloper. He is a multi-instrumentalist who with his long instrument typical of the Swiss valleys, built especially for him, represented the attraction of the evening together with Sergei Starostin, also a great and famous Russian singer and multi-instrumentalist, an extraordinary performer of folk Russian and author of numerous musical projects. Together they offer an extra touch to a festival that has built its base on the traditional Russian horn and the musicians who have been playing it for a long time.
    Precisely on the musicality, harmony, softness of the ensembles I can concentrate my attention to enrich the personal cultural and musical baggage.
    The show of the second evening widens the participation to other bands of the Russian tradition. Among the numerous artists, the public remains particularly attracted to “Loyko trio”, to whom tribute a long applause. I look for information on the musicians and I am told that “Loyko” – the name of the group – is linked to a legend that dates back to 300 years ago. Loyko Zobar was a famous gypsy violinist, sounding so good that the animals came out of the forest to listen better; that same music is today played by Sergei Erdenko (a distant descendant of Loyko Zobar), together with Arthur Gorbenko (violinist) and Michael Savitchev (guitarist).
    But the perfect organization of the festival does not end without offering unexpected surprises to guests.

    In my many business trips around the world, I had not done any morning activities that preceded breakfast. The alarm scheduled for the second day of the festival is at 3:30. My experience suggested that the morning appointment with an early wake up call would have been a nice surprise and would have been particularly appreciated. In fact, after a short trip by minibus, the arrival at the Grigortsevo Village to meet the musicians of the rozhok in the most natural place. They welcome guests to the romantic sound that evokes scenes of pasture and shepherds that start on the prairie. The arrival of the minibus precedes the exit of the cows; so, between woods and swamps, to the sound of the rozhok the whole group together with numerous players starts in the direction of the daily grazing: for everyone it is a moment to relax and also a moment of culture and a show never seen!
    Here the melodies reach the most intimate part of the musical sensitivity of those who listen to the instrument in its most appropriate and natural setting; a scenario that over the centuries has transformed feelings into music, the Russian soul, the most intimate spiritual part of the Russian shepherd; that shepherd who used the Russian horn to spend the day in the company of his herd.
    Now the rozhok is no longer played by shepherds in the time of grazing, nor during the holidays or even at the fairs; this is the reason why the festival was born and wants to enhance the instrument.
    In fact, the rozhok is evolved with virtually endless musical possibilities, which makes its music particularly harmonious and is among the most traditional instruments of Russia that deserve to be saved from oblivion. Today there are many attempts to restore old instruments and to introduce the rozhok in pastoral life as a recovery of tradition. The festival is a good opportunity and there are numerous groups born to enhance the instrument and wish to take part in the Nerekhta event.
    Once in the clearing, the musicians are dedicated to explaining to visitors how the Russian horn is built and how to make the sound more harmonious.
    But a festival like this in Nerekhta dedicated to traditional music is associated with the meeting between old friends, new socialities and the wider aspects of territorial culture to develop tourism and the economy.
    The visit to the Saint Trinity, Nerekhta’s main church, leads guests to a place of profound religiosity that preserves interesting artistic marvels from the historical point of view; where the ascent to the bell tower brings to the forefront of the western world the role of the famous Russian bell ringer. To perform this activity special skills and experience are required in moving the strings so that the most pleasant rhythm is produced by the bells. I can not forget the gesture of Tania who, at my request to purchase a booklet on the history of the church, wanted to offer it herself as a gift with great friendship and with my request for a dedication.
    Then there is the transfer to the Lavrovskaya Factory to closely observe the wooden construction of the traditional Russian matryoshka and game artifacts to train reflexes in a small collective entertainment.
    In the Neznanovo Village there is a noisy and carefree “merrymaking” with traditional sweets, a lot of genuine food offered by local women and outdoor music with traditional dances from ancient Russia. Unmissable are the photographs to remember the day spent at the village. Unmissable photographing the most delicious caviar that I have ever eaten. Occasionally meetings are held with old ladies who recite ancient poems and “recalling” old songs in their memory. There is also a random experimental experimental meeting that could be called “historical” between Torgeir Vassvik and local rozhok musicians. It is the first fusion in an occasional moment of music between the Sápmi culture and the Russian culture, to remember in the history of music.
    Then, two evenings ending with the Gala Dinner at the restaurant in the Profilaktory Hotel with nostalgic songs to the sound of the rozhok and great hospitality of the Russians, to remain etched in the memory of the guests.
    I will not forget Nerekhta’s friends who showed their friendliness until the night train departs for Moscow. I will not forget the gifts received as a souvenir of the city and the chocolate that Nastya wanted to offer at the time of departure, as well as the vintage book on Lenin’s youth life left freely on a banquet at the station available to travelers in which Nastya suggests bringing it home in memory of the wonderful experience in Russia.

    Rocco Turi, sociologist