Feature

Jan 2013

Bards’ day brings Scottish and Russian artists into collaboration

On 25th January 2013, the Sverdlovsk Philharmonic Hall in Ekaterinburg, Russia will take up its traditional role as host for the finale of the now well-established international Burns & Vysotsky: One Soul - Two Poets Festival.

The annual Festival, hosted by the Ural-Scottish Society, began in 2010 as a celebration of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns, who is almost as popular in Russia as in Scotland – largely due to the celebrated translations of his works by the Russian poet Samuil Marshak.

Scottish singer and translator Tommy Beavitt, whose Global Village Bard project aims to aims to restore the ceremonial and critical roles of the ‘village bard’ in contemporary global society, performed at the first Festival and has returned to see the event grow in stature each year. In 2011, it earned its current designation through the realisation that the famous Russian actor and ‘Soviet bard’ Vladimir Vysotsky (1938-1980) has the same birthday as Burns.

“I only noticed this striking coincidence when reading a Russian newspaper on the flight back home to Edinburgh”, says Beavitt. “I have been fascinated by Vysotsky ever since beginning my study of Russian a decade or so ago. You only have to hear his voice to know that he is a poet of extraordinary depth. I began learning and translating his songs straight away!”

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, adds “The Burns & Vysotsky: One Soul - Two Poets Festival celebrates the lives and works of two great bards and cultural icons. It also shows that Scotland and Russia has much in common - not only do the poets share the same birthday, but both our nations share St Andrew as our patron saint.

“This festival is testament to the worldwide appeal of Robert Burns’ music and poetry, and more importantly how Scottish culture and heritage can help forge international links.”


The Burns & Vysotsky: One Soul - Two Poets Festival in Ekaterinburg will coincide with the official opening on 23rd of January of a new Vysotsky museum by Vladimir’s son. Nikita Vysotsky, himself a prominent actor, was the screenwriter for the controversial film Vysotsky: Spasibo chto zhivoy (Thank God I’m Alive), which was the biggest grossing Russian film of 2012 and the sixth most discussed topic in the Russian blogosphere.

This year’s Festival will also host the launch of the Ural-Scottish Album, a publication that will feature paintings by Scottish artists John Mikietyn, Vicky Stonebridge, Frank McNab and David Newbatt and the Russian artist Andrey Yeletsky, alongside verses in Russian and English. This effort has already spawned new two songs in Scots-English and Russian versions, which will be debuted at the event.

Beavitt said: “Boris Petrov, the Festival’s founder and organiser, was very keen that we honour St. Andrew, the patron of both Scotland and Russia. He wrote a poem entitled ‘Andrew First-called’, which I translated and adapted to a contemporary Scottish perspective. This became the song ‘On the Saltire Cross’.”

The theme of ‘saints’ seems to be something that can be used to cross national cultural boundaries: another Russian poem ‘George the Victorious’, inspired by a painting by the Russian artist Andrey Yeletsky, morphed into the song ‘St. George, Arise!’, which pays homage to the patron saint of England and Georgia. Meanwhile, the painting ‘The Arrival of St. Basil’ by Scottish artist John Mikietyn, which was inspired by themes in Russian art, has itself inspired a new poem by the Festival’s Chairman Alexandr Ziryanov.

The Sverdlovsk Philharmonic Hall in Ekaterinburg is located close to the famous ‘Church on the Blood’ built on the site at which the Russian royal family were killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

It is also hoped that the Burns & Vysotsky: One Soul - Two Poets Festival will stage a Russian-themed event in Scotland in January 2014 to coincide with Scotland’s Homecoming 2014 celebrations and the UK-Russia Year of Culture.

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