While the festival’s location in the wooded foothills of the Caucasus is one of its distinctive features, another is the free entry to concerts for local people and visitors alike. Cellist and artistic director Dmitry Yablonsky summed up the Qabala ethos: The festival introduces music lovers who gather here to the best classical pieces, and also introduces Azerbaijani culture to the visiting musicians. The enthusiastic audiences and stunning location combine to give the festival a unique atmosphere.
Organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, with the support of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the two-week festival featured numerous top-class soloists, the Youth Chamber Orchestra of the Uzeyir Hajibeyov Music Academy, three symphony orchestras – the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the New Russia Orchestra and the Uzeyir Hajibeyov Azerbaijan State Symphony Orchestra, a Cuban jazz band and Azerbaijani mugham.
The weather intervened on 30 July, when thunderstorms forced a change in venue from the outdoor stage to Qabala’s well-appointed cultural centre. It was soon business as usual, though, as the next day the large audience could savour the special quality of mugham music played in the mountains.
Highlights for this festival-goer included Olga Martinova and Jean-Bernard Pommier’s Beethoven violin sonata (Opus 30), and the verve with which doyens of the Baku music scene, Farhad Badalbeyli and Murad Adigozelzade, played a Rachmaninov suite for two pianos.
Vocal performances stood out too, especially the Viva Verdi concert, which marked the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and Viva Opera, which featured winners of the Bulbul international singing competition. Turkey’s Burchin Savigne and Azerbaijan’s Farida Mammadova gave a moving rendition of Farhad Badalbeyli’s Two Women’s Prayer/ Ave Maria. In a bill of fine performances, Elchin Azizov’s rendition of Mardan’s aria from the opera Vatan (Fatherland), composed by Qara Qarayev and Jovdat Hajiyev, also deserves special mention.
The variety of conductors is another Qabala plus. Jader Bignamini (Italy), Amos Talmon (Israel), Mirco Roverelli (Italy), Jean-Bernard Pommier (France) and Jan Latham-Koenig (UK) all conducted the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. The New Russia Orchestra was conducted by its artistic director, Yuri Bashmet, Rauf Abdullayev (Azerbaijan), the remarkably lively Alexander Soloviev (Russia), Borja Quintas (Spain) and Dmitry Yablonsky (Russia-USA). One of Azerbaijan’s rising stars, Fuad Ibrahimov, conducted the Youth Chamber Orchestra, while Fahraddin Karimov and Yalchin Adigozelov conducted the Azerbaijan State Symphony Orchestra.
The Qabala blend of fine music, fresh mountain air and friendly atmosphere has taken the festival to its fifth anniversary. May those distinctive features help the festival to flourish for another five, 10 or 50 years!