How to run a live music festival post-lockdown


By Ellie Palmer

25 May 2021

Pianist and festival curator Yulia Chaplina talks to Pianist ahead of hosting her 2nd Prokofiev Festival, which takes place 25-28 May LIVE in London

Tickets to the festival can be found here

 

For the last 15 months or so, the live music industry has been almost at a complete standstill. 

Hundreds of the world's most loved festivals were cancelled last year due to the global pandemic, with many performers also cancelling their shows and tours. 

Thankfully – in many countries – we are seeing lockdown restrictions easing, with live in-person festivals now taking place for the first time in months. And what a joy it is to see!

Understandably, however, things will not be the same as they were pre-covid. Events will have to adapt to stricter rules, and be more flexible to last-minute changes. 

Pianist and festival curator Yulia Chaplina is this week hosting her 2nd Prokofiev Festival in London, live. We asked her a few questions about how she has organised this in-person festival, and what advice she has for other musicians out there who are wanting to host their own festival.

 

 

1. Tell us about your past experience with running festivals

I love running festivals – nothing can be compared to the joys of bringing people together and finding interesting thematic programmes to play.

I was first asked to curate a festival six years ago at the Russian House in London. I still regularly run small festivals there. Among the most interesting of my festivals are Music of the Russian Revolution 1917, Debussy and his contemporaries, Liszt Festival and of course the Prokofiev Festival. The 1st Prokofiev festival ran in 2019 across two venues; Southbank and the Pushkin House in London. It was so successful that I got the idea to expand the festival into more days and venues – so this year it is 5 concerts in 4 days across Kings Place, Pushkin House and Russian House in London.

 

"I love running festivals – nothing can be compared to the joys of bringing people together and finding interesting thematic programmes to play." - Yulia Chaplina

 

 

2. Many music festivals have moved online in the last year. You've chosen to only host yours 'live', without the option of online streaming. Why?

The 2nd Prokofiev Festival, which is happening between 25-28 May 2021, was meant to happen in June 2020 and, for a long time, I considered running it online back then.

However, I must admit I got so tired of listening to and watching music online that I decided to skip a year and wait until the things were back to normal. The venues are still operating at limited capacity, but it is such a joy to play to live audiences - so at least for me, personally it was worth the wait.

 

The 2nd Prokofiev Festival takes place 25-28 May, live in London. Find out more here.

 

I think running something virtually is a very good idea as it expands the popularity and gives access to a wider group of people. It is wonderful to see that classical music has moved more into the online space but there will be always certain chemistry between performer and the audience that no camera will catch!

 

 

3. How excited are you to be running, and indeed attending, music festivals in person again?

I can’t wait to be playing on the concert stage again. I also can’t wait to hear other concerts and performers – I feel I have been deprived from this pleasure for so long. My last public concert before the 3rd [UK] lockdown was on 13 December [2020] (and I was lucky to have played it), so it is 6 months for me without playing live.

I am nervous (for all sorts of reasons – also if I still fit into all my dresses), excited and so tremendously proud of doing something professionally again! This time has really taught me how much I love playing the piano and how much I need performing, especially to share my thoughts and emotions via the music with the audience.

 

WATCH: Yulia Chaplina and violinist Thomas Gould perform part of Shostakovich's Waltz no. 2 from "Jazz Suite' no. 2. You can watch the full performance on 26 May live at Kings Place, London. Tickets available here.

 

 

4. What is the main challenge of running a festival post-lockdown?

The main challenge for me was timing and deciding to do it. I made the decision in April, just after the prime minister’s announcement [RE venues opening again from 17 May]. There was no guarantee that the concert halls would open from 17 May at all. In fact, it was quite dubious!

But I am so happy I have got the courage to do it – it feels great to be doing things after such a long break. Although I must say I think the lockdown has slowed me down – I find it harder and more difficult to get organised and to meet all the deadlines somehow. I think many people will understand me! It was also quite hard to rehearse chamber music as my violinist (Thomas Gould) and my cellist (Bartholomew LaFollette) were quite far away from me when we rehearsed.

 

 

5. Do you think festivals are going to look different after the pandemic?

I hope that there will be just more classical music available for people both online and ‘offline’ after the pandemic. Hopefully more people now understand how beautiful and how important classical music is in our lives.

However, streaming is very expensive (that’s why we didn’t go for that option in the end) and hopefully there will demand from audiences from all over the world to make this a viable option. But it is wonderful to see classical music going online and becoming more progressive – the lockdown has made it pick up with the rest of the world!

 

Yulia Chaplina performs part of Shostakovich's Sentimental Waltz. The full work will be performed live from Kings Place on 26 May. 

 

 

6. What three pieces of advice do you have for those that are looking to run a festival in the near future?

As I mentioned earlier – I love collaborating with people, so running a festival is the perfect activity especially after we all have been so lonely during the lockdowns. So for all who need to start, the absolute 5 must things to think about are (in no particular order):

✔ Theme of the Festival

✔ Budget

✔ Artists

✔ Venues

✔ Programme

Hopefully there will be more of everything now that we finally have opened up!