The Salt Symphony Festival in 2004 was the brainchild of Kristian Gessl, a trade adviser at the Embassy of Austria in Ukraine. The idea to hold a concert at a 300-meter depth in the Soledar mine in Donetsk oblast was supported by diplomats of many countries accredited in Ukraine, businessman, and well-known actors. According to the festival organizer, the East-West Consult Company Ltd., this creative project was aimed at uniting the cultures of several countries and expanding business ties between Ukrainian and foreign elites. This year the festival is also supported by Italy and France.
At first, people were leery of the word “mine,” and few businessmen, actors, and musicians were eager to descend deep beneath the surface. They called the idea an “extreme festival.” The organizers had to conduct a familiarization excursion to the salt mines so that the guests and participants could see that salt mines, unlike coal mines, are safe. Salt imbedded in strata is self-supportive, and no explosions can occur there.
“Initially, I was very alarmed, and after hearing about the salt-mine concert, my family dissuaded me from this adventure,” explained well- known opera diva Viktoria LUKIANETS, who was the world’s first Ukrainian celebrity to take part in the festival. “Understanding my fears, the organizers of the Salt Symphony project invited a phoniatrist [a hybrid of the laryngologist and speech-language pathologist]. They descended into the mine together, and he concluded that you can sing there. This is a huge depth (288 meters), there is pressure and humidity, and it’s rather cool (a constant temperature of 14 degrees above zero). I didn’t know what the acoustics would be like there. But after taking various measurements, the phoniatrist not only gave the go-ahead for the concert, he also assured me that salt has a favorable effect on the voice. It turns out that in the many years the Artemsil mines have existed in Soledar none of their workers have ever had asthma. So I calmed down. The Donbas Symphony Orchestra and I performed classic pieces of popular music to raise the mood of the audience, who did not feel comfortable at first, so far beneath the surface.
“When I first descended into the salt mine, I was impressed by the ‘hall,’ which seats 350 people. Everything is light gray, and you get the impression that you are surrounded by blocks of crystal and ice. When the electricians set up the lighting, I felt as though I were in a fairytale. I was amazed by the mastery of a local sculptor who created real works of art from salt blocks. The acoustics are great in the salt hall. You can breathe there very easily.”
The first unique concert took place three years ago, in October, in the Soledar mine of the Artemsil Association. At the time many residents of Donetsk oblast were not aware of this amazing place, this salt hall with astonishing acoustics. But those who were lucky to part in the program rapturously shared their impressions, and the organizers decided to hold a Salt Symphony every year. In 2005 demonstration programs took place in Kyiv. This was no ordinary concert in the hall of the National Opera of Ukraine but a high society reception attended by bankers, businessmen, politicians, diplomats, academics, cultural figures, and members of the mass media. There was also a tour of Austria.
What awaits the guests of the Salt Symphony 2007? The festival opens on Oct. 5 with a performance of the ballet Seasons of Year. It will be staged to Vivaldi’s music by the well-known Ukrainian dancer Vadym Pysariev together with musicians of the Donetsk-based Serhii Prokofiev Philharmonic (conductor: Oleksandr Dolynsky) and Pysariev’s ballet school. This will be followed by a concert performed by the Donbas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Austrian native Wolfram Rosenberger. Among the featured singers will be divas Catarina Corezi (soprano) and Olena Suvorova (mezzo-soprano). A concert by France’s L’Orchestre des Contrebasses will mark the end of the festival on Oct. 7.
Art openings and meetings with famous Ukrainian artists and writers will take place within the framework of this artistic cycle devoted to salt. Festival guests and participants will taste dishes prepared the Austria-based Modul Cooking School headed by Viennese Chef Gottfried Gansterer. There are other pleasant surprises in store, the festival organizers have promised.