14 June 2018 All news


Первый фестиваль польской песни

Thirty years ago Vitebsk was preparing for the First All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song, which actually marked the beginning of large festivals in our city.

The construction of the Summer Amphitheatre, which later became the main concert venue of “Slavianski Bazaar”, was completed at a rapid pace.

Today, it is pleasant and useful to plunge into the atmosphere of that time again, to remember the people who stood at the origins of the landmark events in the life of Vitebsk and the entire Belarus.

Galina Sokolova headed the Regional Scientific and Methodical Folk Art Center from 1964. She was one of the initiators of the first regional Polish song show-contests.

– Vitebsk and the Polish city of Zielona Góra collaborated in different areas. Zielona Góra hosted a large festival of Soviet songs. We thought why not hold Polish song festivals and decided to start with a regional show-contest. There were few people in Vitebsk who specialized in the Polish language, and we had no repertoire stock. There were only those songs we heard on TV and radio. We set off to our western regions - Braslav, Miory, Postavy - where historically there lived more experts of the Polish folklore and culture. We auditioned many amateur singers and saw a lot of interesting performers.

The first festival-contest was held in 1975 in the Palace of Culture of consumer services. By 1988, seven regional festivals and contests had been organized. When it came to holding the First All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song, a considerable creative base had been accumulated.

Victor Kibisov, who worked as the Head of the Department of Culture of the City Executive Committee from 1980, recalling the 1980s, said that the unique culture of Vitebsk predetermined holding of large festivals.

– There was creative spirit in the air, many new ideas sprang up, almost every enterprise cultivated and supported amateur art, built clubs and palaces of culture. To have its own choir was a matter of honor for every head of a factory or plant. Choirmasters were known by sight. The famous in Vitebsk conductor Nikolai Kominskyh headed a military orchestra. He was commissioned to organize parades, wind music festivals. Vitebsk attracted and provided a source of fascination for gifted, creative, talented people – artists, musicians, performers.

The Audience of the First Festival of the Polish Song. Our main festival venue, the Summer Amphitheatre, appeared due to the initiative of the choirs as well. They insisted on creating a large concert venue for mass performances. Anatoly Vavilchenkov, Yuri Gryaznov, Vitaly Rauso, Victor Gorbatovsky were real enthusiasts and experts at their job. The city had 38 choirs and 25 brass bands. Festivals of choral music were held featuring large mixed choirs. But, the choirs could come together on one stage only in “Mazurino” Park on a wooden platform, with people standing close up to one another.

In 1974, when the city celebrated its 1000th Anniversary, a large stage was constructed on the site of the current Amphitheatre. Benches were installed for spectators on the hillside. The concert program dedicated to the celebration presented amateur groups and a large combined choir. So, the city’s main concert venue was already tested.

The initiative to build the Summer Amphitheater came from both masses and ruling circles. Before holding the All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song both initiatives met and there appeared a unique construction. The great merit belongs to the then First Secretary of the Communist Party Committee Vladimir Grigoriev who put a lot of energy and efforts into the implementation of all plans.

Lyudmila Dmitryuk, who worked as Deputy Director of the City Center of Culture and Leisure, recalls:

– In the neighboring city of Polotsk the oil pipeline “Druzhba” was being built, there were a lot of Polish builders. Our groups and collectives visited them several times a year and gave concerts. The soloist Lena Boboriko was always enthusiastically received. She was fluent in Polish. The sound engineer Oleg Afanasiev also spoke Polish and the Poles took him for their native.

The composer, at that time the Chairman of the BSSR Union of Composers, Igor Luchenok often went to Poland and watched the festivals of Soviet songs in Zielona Góra. He repeatedly spoke for the idea to hold the Polish music festival in Belarus.

But, let's face it, the All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song appeared not only due to the historical background of the city with a rich cultural tradition, the friendly relations of Vitebsk and Zielona Góra, the enthusiasm of the Vitebsk cultural workers, but also the political situation. In the late 1980s, the general sentiment that in no way contributed to strengthening of friendly relations with the Soviet Union was on the rise in Poland. In the CPSU Central Committee it was decided that the fraternal relationship between the two countries couldn’t have been supported by the Warsaw Pact only. Cultural ties should have been strengthened, public diplomacy should have been used. One of the outcomes was the decision to hold the All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song in the USSR.

Several cities were considered as possible locations for the festival, including Vilnius. However, the decisive was the ability of the First Secretary of the Vitebsk Regional Party Vladimir Grigoriev to negotiate in the CPSU Central Committee and the support he was given by the Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, in charge of ideology, our countryman Mikhail Zimyanin before his retiring.

The Amphitheatre construction workers, 1988 The All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song was commissioned to be held by the Vitebsk City Center of Culture and Leisure.

– We proved to be successful in holding jazz festivals and working in the new economic environment, – recalled Rodion Bass, who worked as Director. – We were known in Minsk and Moscow. In 1987, I was offered to become the Director of the All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song. At first, it was approved by the Ministry of Culture of the BSSR, then in Moscow. The First Deputy Minister of Culture of the USSR Nina Silkova was appointed Chairman of the Organizing Committee.

The approval of the decision to hold the Polish festival prompted a considerable strengthening of contacts between the twin cities of Vitebsk and Zielona Góra. There followed monthly meetings at various levels. At first, the festival organizers were feeling things out. The Poles, who had held a large number of festivals in Zielona Góra, tried to teach Vitebsk how to hold celebrations. The Vitebsk organizers took over the experience willingly, saying to themselves “we weren’t born yesterday”.

The stage director Alexander Nisnevich told a funny story:

– The year 1987... The 70th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. I am organizing a theatrical demonstration on Lenin Square, where there are guests from the twin cities of Zielona Góra (Poland) and Frankfurt on Oder (East Germany). It is known from history that after the liberation of Minsk from the Nazi invaders there was a partisan parade. At the head of the column the partisans led a goat with German crosses on the neck.

I reconstructed this procession in Vitebsk. The delegation of Frankfurt-Oder almost immediately left the rostrum, while the Poles from Zielona Góra were delighted.

It was on 7 November, and early in the morning the following day Rodion Bass, Vyacheslav Babashkin, the Amphitheater architect, Nikolai Pashinsky, who then worked in the Regional Party Committee, Nikolai Fedorchuk, the Chairman of the Vitebsk City Executive Committee, and I went to Zielona Góra. We spent there five days, watching their festival.

We gained no full trust. Indeed, was it really possible to take things seriously, when the Polish delegation in Vitebsk was taken to the former skating rink and told that in that large pit there would be an Amphitheater with a five thousand seating capacity by the summer? The Poles only smiled sceptically in response. Could such a theatre have been built within eight months? We weren't sure about that much ourselves. We showed the Poles the zero cycle of construction of the Concert Hall “Vitebsk” and said that, if there was no other way, the festival would be held in that hall. The Poles smiled sceptically again. Then they were told that, in the end, the Polish festival could have been held on a wooden stage in “Mazurino” Park. They didn’t smile sceptically at the stage in “Mazurino” Park, but their mood didn’t improve.

The Grand Opening of the Amphitheatre. Mark Fradkin (the first on the right).

In Poland we were shown Zielona Góra Theater that had hosted the Soviet Song Festival for twenty years. Every evening the Poles would show us tapes with the festival recordings. On the third day of our stay we made it clear that we understood everything, and there was no need to show us recorded festival editions every night and teach us the wisdom of life. We were going to different places, communicating, watching performers.

On 8 January 1988 the working group responsible for the preparation and holding of the First All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song met in Vitebsk.

...The site for the summer concert venue was chosen. Whatever side the situation was considered, it was to be built there. In the complex project of planning and development of Vitebsk in 1973 and in later developments, that area was allocated for construction of a socio-cultural center such as a “singing field” with a stage in the eastern part. Today, few people remember that on the current place of the Amphitheatre there was Ovrazhny Pereulok and four or five houses. The household buildings and support structures of the houses faced the center of Vitebsk, which, definitely, did not make the city beautiful. That was not, obviously, the main issue, but it had to be solved. Moreover, that place was closely connected with cultural traditions. In the early 19th century Leri circus was located there, depicted in a painting by the artist Yudel Pen, whose workshop was across the road.

It was left only to start and finish the construction, working under the pressure to meet the deadline. First of all, a project should have been designed so that the summer concert venue would blend into a very beautiful and at the same time architecturally complex Vitebsk landscape.

The general designer was the Vitebskgrazhdanproekt Institute. The project authors were experienced, talented, respected experts.

Boris Glushkov, who headed the Vitebskgrazhdanproekt Institute in those years, recalls:

– We established a small group at the Institute to work on the architectural concept of the “singing field” and announced a contest for our design workshops to present their conceptual landscape designs. The design by Vyacheslav Babashkin was chosen; he had the idea of an Amphitheater. The Soviet Union had no such summer concert venues like amphitheaters.

Vyacheslav Babashkin is an experienced and talented professional who built constructions in Norilsk, Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod), Minsk. From 1984 he headed the workshop in the Vitebskgrazhdanproekt Institute. In Vitebsk, he was the project author of the Regional Medical Association “Cardiology”, the Regional Diagnostic Center, the cinema “Brigantina” and other architectural silhouettes that make it possible to imagine modern Vitebsk.

Boris Glushkov recalls:

–Three-shift work was organized at the construction site. Vladimir Grigoriev put the Secretary of the Regional Party Committee Vasily Sakovich, who had the experience of a chief engineer at “Vitebskselstroy”, in charge of overseeing the construction, but he often visited the construction site himself. What is more, he could come during night shifts. He did not go into the details, but people said, “If the First Secretary of the Regional Committee comes at night, things are very serious”.

I was on a friendly footing with Evsey Gendel, the head of construction department N14, who was directly involved in the construction of the Amphitheater. It facilitated the coordination of work. Gendel took our changes in the project patiently. The construction works were carried out intensively. Evsey Gendel lived opposite the Amphitheatre, in the house, which was called “siniy dom” (blue house) according to its colour. He seemed to have gone home only for lunch and short sleep, and all the time he spent at the construction site.

By the beginning of June 1988, the construction of the Summer Amphitheatre had been at the final stage. On 1July, the State Commission for the acceptance of the object with the installation of the stage design according to the approved sketches was appointed.

The stage took 430 square meters. There were staff areas and backrooms under the upper stand. Next to the stage there were rooms for actors and performers. The cultural and sports complex had tennis courts, gyms and dance halls, a cafe-bar, a restaurant, and shops.

In 1989, Vyacheslav Babashkin became a prizewinner of the 13th All-Union Competition of the Best Architectural Works for “Summer Amphitheatre in Vitebsk”.

...Rodion bass visited the construction site almost every day, starting from digging pits to the installation of the stage equipment.

– People worked under pressure of time as one team. The main goal was to have the Amphitheatre approved for the Polish festival. The goal dictated everything. Of course, there was some unfinished work left, but at that time we were great optimists and believed that we would hold the festival, and then would be able to get everything done.…

The Summer Amphitheatre has become one of the symbols of Vitebsk ... Today it seems to have existed the whole time.

At first, many people, especially the elderly generation, looked at the new building with a critical eye. The city centre, the old Town Hall, the bridge over the Vitba River, hundred-year-old houses, homelike and familiar Vitebsk… and some giant construction resembling a huge shell.

But very soon the old-timers appreciated the beauty and organic nature of the Amphitheater. It blended in with the area, which points to the talent of the architect, who was able to connect the picturesque Vitebsk ravines and a modern concert hall.

The video footage kept the Grand Opening Ceremony of the Amphitheater. There are happy faces of the Vitebsk residents and literally a sea of flowers.

In the morning, the builders were laying tile at the stage, while in the evening the stage hosted the first concert, dedicated to the builders, architects, and technicians who constructed and mounted the colossal structure.

Opening the celebrations, the First Secretary of the Vitebsk Regional Party Committee Vladimir Grigoriev said:

– Today this wonderful and unique in our country Summer Theater has gathered those who contributed to its construction with their selfless work.

Over fifty construction, design and installation regional and republican organizations have taken part in the construction, showed innovative approaches to solving complex scientific and technical challenges, high level of self-organization and coherence in work. The construction of the Amphitheatre is completed in record time.

A huge pit on the site of the Amphitheatre, the mid-1960s.Then, to the applause of the entire auditorium, Eduard Zalivsky, the head of construction trust № 28, presented a symbolic key to the Summer Amphitheatre to the People's Artist of the USSR, our countryman, composer Mark Fradkin.

The Grand Opening Ceremony of the First All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song took place on 22 July, 1988. For the first time the city received a great number of guests. During the day there were folk festivals, fairs, performances of folklore groups, and the Polish film festival. In the evening people headed for the Summer Amphitheatre. The hospitable hosts of the festival gave a warm welcome to pop stars and young singers who made their first steps on the professional stage. The famous Polish singer Maryla Rodowicz in an interview said that “she had never met such sincere and friendly audience as in Vitebsk”.

The composer, People’s Artist of the USSR Igor Luchenok was the Chairperson of the jury of the First All-Union Festival-Contest of Polish Song. “First of all, I was pleased with the scope of the Polish Song Contest. It featured amateur artists from different regions of our country. The qualifying rounds were held in Ukraine and Georgia, Kazakhstan and Armenia, Moldova and Belarus. The winners were the representatives of different cities, such as Moscow and Pavlodar, Grodno and Dubăsari, Mogilev and Vitebsk”.

On the closing day, 24 July 1988, the contest winners were announced. Jamma Khalid (Moscow) and Marina Zakharova (Kaliningrad) shared the First Prize. Valery Skorozhenok from Grodno became the Second Prize winner. The Third Prize was equally divided between Tatiana Ponomarenko (Dubăsari, Moldova) and Inna Afanasieva from Mogilev. It was the first great success of the soloist of the vocal and instrumental ensemble “Spectrum” of the Palace of Culture and Technology “Himvolokno”, now Honored Artist of Belarus Inna Afanasieva.

We are turning the pages of the history of the All-Union Festival of Polish Song and understand that much of what we see every year at the International Festival of Arts “Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk” was designed and projected in those days...

From 18 to 25 July 1990, Vitebsk hosted the Second All-Union Festival of Polish Song. Both the participants and the international jury stressed many times that the Vitebsk festival had been and remained the only festival where non-professional artists were given the opportunity to show their skills. The overall winners of the Festival-Contest were Natalia Potapenko from Lvov and Valery Tsuran from Kaliningrad, the First Prize went to Victoria Noskova from Vitebsk and Elena Lukashenko from Pinsk, the Third Prize was given to the vocal-instrumental ensemble “Lvovyane” and Faik Agayev from Baku.

Victoria Noskova (Morozova) in 1999 together with Teona Dolnikova, the Grand Prix winner of “Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk”, played the main parts in the musical “Metro”, staged in Moscow.

Unfortunately, other prizewinners of the Polish Song Festival did not join the big professional world. The reason was not so much in their musical or artistic skills, but a new time, which imposed other requirements for show business. The festivals following the entire country were taking the route to commercialization, and the skill to count money became the most important of the arts.

The Second All-Union Festival of Polish Song was successful, but many people already saw that there wouldn’t follow further editions. The political situation dictated a different scenario…


Arkady Shulman