Back in spring 2015 we attended a concert at the Smolny Cathedral here in St Petersburg. Almost exactly one year after, Smolny will fully belong to the Church as it used to be long time ago, there will be no concerts inside this cathedral (which is a shame considering its first class acoustic characteristics!). I wonder if they will still let people climb up the bell tower – it’ll be a shame if no one will be able to see St Petersburg from that observation point! The concerts are now primarily held at two churches – Church of the Saviour on Blood and St Isaac’s Cathedral (which has a more popular observation platform). Earlier this month we attended Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil at the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, that architectural marvel close to Nevsky.
Sergei Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil was my first live choral performance that I have ever attended (not counting several church choirs that I’ve heard). And although Rachmaninov created a piece which cannot be considered 100% religious or church music, it certainly moves you so much that you experience something very similar to a spiritual uplifting. No scholarly research on Orthodox religion could ever give you the same level of experience and insight into the spirit and the perception of the world. To cut the long story short, I really loved it.
So far it was probably the strongest emotional experience I got while listening to a live performance – or even just music! Very good concerts usually make me smile and I laugh but this music made me cry – just couldn’t stop it! The voices kept reverberating from the walls, the music was flowing in a stream towards you and surrounding you – you could almost feel the music with your skin, so very “thick” that it became tangible!
I struggled to make photos which would more or less render the atmosphere and the grandeur of the interior. The church does look like a museum of mosaics of the beginning of the 20th century (which it was turned into by the Soviets after serving as a morgue during the Siege and a storehouse for veggies and the nearby theatre) but with that choral music the space was suddenly transformed into a real church. And the space in its turned also helped the experience cause the same piece performed somewhere in a concert hall would be a completely different story.
Listen to this celestial music, how the voices of the Smolny Cathedral Choir intertwine and create this wonderful wall of sound…
Sorry for the inevitable cracking sounds and the tic-tac of my wrist watch in the background 🙂
The chandeliers inside this church impressed me more than the mosaics…
I also liked this smaller lamp close to the entrance:
This photo was taken with my phone so it has a different – brighter – colour scheme:
Just when we were about to leave the church, they started switching the lights off one by one, which changed the atmosphere into a more mysterious one, with these lights encircling the cupola just like candles:
Outside there was snow and we couldn’t believe that we spent only 1 hour inside – it felt like we listened to that magical music for hours! The grate which lines the square and also serves as the railing for the nearby Mikhailovsky Garden (which belongs to the Russian Museum) is such an intricate creation of the Art Nouveau era, that you just cannot pass by without noticing it.
Same week we also visited the intimate hall of the St Petersburg Opera for the second time – this time we watched a super light performance, the Bat. It was so light indeed that I caught myself not thinking about anything – I mean I usually tend to switch off from time to time thinking about my own stuff but here I sat just listening to the performers and giving my head some rest.
Upcoming – another concert at the Smolny Cathedral (the last one before its official closure as a concert hall) and some Mariinsky Theatre performances. Panem et circenses!