I recently had the pleasure of visiting Moscow for the first time to attend the second ‘Moscow Spring A Cappella‘ festival, one of the largest a cappella events in the world, and part of series of seasonal street events across the Russian capital known as ‘Moscow Seasons‘. Moscow Seasons is a comparatively new initiative from the Government of Moscow, celebrating different events throughout the year, that sees the city attract tens of millions of people.
For those who don’t know ‘a cappella’ literally means ‘in the manner of the chapel’ but is a term used for music that is sung without instrumental accompaniment. This year, the Moscow Spring A Cappella was even bigger than last year’s inaugural event and saw 184 participants from 16 different countries, including Russia (40 regions of Russia were represented), the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, China, Korea, India and Hungary to name just some. Notable a cappella bands taking part included Metro Vocal Group (Hong Kong), B Vocal (Spain), Opus Jam (France), The Buzztones (Great Britain), The Alley Cats (USA) and Maytree (Korea).
What’s more, all the festival activities – whether it be concerts, master classes, workshops or whatever – are completely free for visitors. This makes the event open to all and gives the whole city a very welcoming feel for the duration of the festival. Public spaces embrace the event in spades, and the streets are decorated accordingly.
It also encourages both locals and visitors alike to explore the city on foot, as performances largely centre upon the heart of the city at venues within easy walking distance of each other.
Bands that are perhaps used to performing in famous concert halls or large music venues instead find themselves singing outdoors on beautifully-adorned temporary stages in public spaces across the city like the one pictured below. Over 60 venues are opened on the streets, squares and boulevards of Moscow, as well as on the roofs and balconies of houses, and in parks, and literally hundreds of performances are hosted.
The festival is also embraced by Muscovites and Russians alike who get involved in a variety of ways, whether they be performing, watching or offering their support. The Moscow Spring A Cappella event is in fact supported by 192 merchants and 90 restaurants across the city, with many restaurateurs putting together a special Spring menu for the festival.
I only caught the tail-end of the event which lasted over a week, but was able to catch a few performances on video which I can share with you here to give you a feel for not only the quality of the singing, but also to hopefully convey at least some of the friendly and relaxed atmosphere that pervaded the city’s streets.
First I give you Metro Vocal Group which is a dynamic and innovative American a cappella group based in Hong Kong that is hailed as one of the best a cappella groups in Asia. Members of the group use their voices to imitate percussion, trumpets, guitars and miscellaneous sound effects as well as full melodies with harmony.
We also listened to Naama Women′s Choir conducted by Ms. Pnina Inbar. With the support of Israel’s Ministry of Culture, Naama offers a diverse repertoire that includes a wide range of classical works from all periods, original Israeli compositions written for the choir, Israeli and international folk songs, and more.
I also enjoyed a number of performances by the US group THUMMp. Based out of Michigan, many of the members have been performing contemporary a cappella music together for over 20 years.
As you can see, there’s a huge variety to enjoy. And, in addition to watching and listening to the performances, many creative master classes are held at the festival. You can learn how to sing yourself in different styles (jazz, opera and even beatbox!), learn the basics of ballet, modern street dance and modern jazz dance. In addition, you can learn how to make and decorate various musical instruments, attend a drumming workshop (see below) or learn how to cook the favourite dishes of great composers.
As you can see, there’s a huge amount to enjoy whilst the festival is going on, whether it be the performances or other activities that you can get involved it, or simply the quirky, themed decorations dotted about the city.
I thought some of the interactive exhibits on the streets were particularly fun. There were these steps with piano keys that actually played notes when you walked over them…
…and this large record that played music as you turned it.
If you’re considering a trip to Moscow, then this is clearly a great time of year to visit. Alternatively, take a look at the many other events that are going on as part of Moscow Seasons.
Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Moscow Seasons – a series of festivals held throughout the year in Moscow, with the support of the Government of Moscow.