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There was a wonderful concert in Russia’s capital, on Moscow’s Red Square with international opera stars and the Mariinsky Orchestra for the opening ceremony, held on the 13th of June 2018.
Many more concerts followed in the 11 cities, where the football matches were held: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Sochi and Rostov-on-Don. The brilliant opening ceremony on Moscow’s Red Square was a sound and light show, attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, FIFA head Gianni Infantino and thousands of people.
The location was well chosen, the symbolism of Red Square well understood. It is not only the heart of Moscow but also, in a way, the heart of Russia. Red Square separates the Kremlin from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-Gorod. Moscow’s major streets, which connect to Russia’s major highways, originate from the square.
In medieval times, the square served as Moscow’s main marketplace, and Russia’s tsars were coronated here. It was the site of public ceremonies and proclamations. Since 1945, it has been used for the Victory Parade, each 9th of May.
In 1990, Red Square was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Maestro Valery Gergiev and famous opera stars were taking part in the opening concert, which was initiated by the renowned Russian classical pianist Denis Matsuev, who was the show’s host and participant. The event also involved Dmitry Bertman, Artistic Director of Moscow’s Helikon Opera Theatre.
The concert’s programme included interesting pieces of Russian music: the ouverture of Mikhail Glinka’s opera “Ruslan and Ludmila”, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s romance no. 6 “Does the day reign”, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s piano concert no. 1 in B-flat minor, played by Denis Matsuev, Sergey Rachmaninov’s “Italian Polka” for four hands on piano in E-flat minor, played by Denis Matsuev and a seven year old Russian pianist; finally the popular Russian song “Kalinka” at the end of the concert, sung by the whole ensemble together.
In the world of Russian music, the name of Valery Abisalovich Gergiev, general director and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, is well known. He was born on the 2nd of May 1953 in Moscow to Ossetian parents and raised in his family’s native Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, in the Caucasus. From 1972 to 1977, Valery Gergiev studied at the Saint Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory, where his conducting teacher was Professor Ilya Musin.
In 1978, he became assistant conductor at the Mariinsky Opera, giving his conducting debut with Sergey Prokofiev’s «War and Peace». In 1988, he became chief conductor of the Mariinsky Opera. Since 1996, Valery Gergiev has been working as the Mariinsky’s artistic director and manager. The Maestro has remained true to his mission, to transform the Mariinsky into the best opera and ballet company of the globe. In 1993, he created the famous White Nights Music Festival of Saint Petersburg.
Valery Gergiev has recorded the works of many notable Russian composers, such as Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857), Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), Sergey Prokofiev (1901-1953), Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975) and Rodion Shchedrin, born in 1932. For his achievements Valery Gergiev earned the title People’s Artist of Russia in 1996. He also received the Order of Friendship in 2000 and the medal In Commemoration of the 300th Anniversary of Saint Petersburg in 2003. In addition Valery Gergiev was decorated with two Orders of Merit for the Fatherland, in 2003 and 2008.
He is an Honorary Doctor of the Saint Petersburg State University and Honorary Professor of the Moscow State University. An appraisal in the Scotsman of Edinburgh, where he is a well-known festival conductor, judged that “Valery Gergiev’s energy puts others in the shade. He is a caged whirlwind of energy. Valery Gergiev’s style of conducting is known for its intensity. He is one of the finest conductors in the world, with a staggering array of appointments. His work at the Mariinsky proves that he is not just a gifted conductor, but a genius administrator and fundraiser as well.”
On the 14th of June, Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium hosted the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Russia won 5-0, which brought a surge of joy and pride for all Russian football fans. On the 19th of June, the Russian team won again, this time 3-1 against Egypt, in the football stadium of Saint Petersburg. Both victories had been predicted by white-furred Achilles, a psychic cat of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Anna Kondratyeva, the Hermitage Museum’s veterinarian, pointed out that the cat “loves his motherland and couldn’t vote otherwise”.
Achilles is deaf, as many white cats are. However, he compensates by great psychic qualities. According to the museum officials Achilles demonstrates “capabilites of choice, analysis and unusual behaviour”. In order to forecast the football results, Achilles had to choose between two
identical food bowls marked with flags from competing nations. This performance was a joint tourism project between the city of Saint Petersburg and the Hermitage Museum, which had been visited by more than four million visitors in 2017.
On the 25th of June, Russia’s football team played against Uruguay in Samara. Unfortunately, Achilles’ prediction for this match proved to be wrong. The Russians lost 0-3 to the players from Uruguay. In Samara, the spectacular Cosmos Arena with a capacity of 45.000 spectators was especially built for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Its main architectural feature is the metal dome inspired by space exploration, with the overall silhouette resembling a star or a spacecraft. The elliptical foundation of the stadium supports two levels of spectator seats. The seats are completely covered by the roof, the stands in the stadium can be heated.
The stadium is a reference to Samara’s involvement in space industry. The city on the Volga is known for its production of aerospace launch vehicles, satellites and various space services. In 1960, Samara became the missile shield centre of the Soviet Union. The launch vehicle Vostok, which delivered the first manned spaceship to orbit, was built at the Samara Progress Plant. Yury Gagarin, the first man to travel in space, took a rest in Samara after returning to Earth in 1961. Samara’s enterprises played a leading role in the development of Soviet domestic aviation and the implementation of the Soviet space programme.
On the 1st of July, the teams of Russia and Spain met in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium. Russia eliminated Spain on penalty kicks, 4-3, after a 1-1 tie. The Russian team advanced to the quarterfinals and continued in Sochi, where it played against the Croatian team in the Fisht
Stadium, on the 7th of July. However, here the Russian World Cup dream vanished because the Russian players lost to Croatia. The regular and the 30-minute overtime periods ended in a 2-2 draw. The Croats won in a 4-3 penalty shootout.
The Fisht Stadium is located in Sochi Olympic Park. It is named after Mount Fisht, a peak of the western Caucasus, in the Russian Republic of Adygea. The 40,000-capacity stadium was constructed for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, where it served as the venue for their opening and closing ceremonies. It was re-opened in 2016 as an open-air football stadium, to host matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Its roof was designed to give the appearance of snowy peaks.
The bowl opens to the north, allowing a direct view of the Krasnaya Polyana Mountains in the Caucasus, while the upper deck is open to the south, allowing a view of the Black Sea. On the 8th of July, more than 24,000 Russian football fans gathered in the World Cup Fan Zone in Moscow to meet the Russian players returning from Sochi to cheer them for their great performance at the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Chief coach Stanislav Cherchesov thanked all those who had supported them. He promised that the Russian football team would demonstrate better results at the next World Cup in Qatar.
Since the World Cup has started, the streets of Moscow and the ten other host cities have filled up with partying football fans. The entire country seems to focus on the major sports event. Of course, it is also an excellent time for Russian business. With FIFA set to earn $6.1 billion from the World Cup 2018, local businesses want a slice of the pie, too. So they have dressed up for the party. Shops, bars, restaurants and hotels are decorated with football items to attract international FIFA tourists.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup raised President Putin’s nimbus in Russia because he brought the country back to the big international stage of sports. According to a survey by the polling institute FOM, 74 percent of the Russian population were in favour of the major event. The
interviewees mentioned improvement of infrastructure and further success in sports as two of the reasons for their approval. The World Cup stadiums and modern training facilities did not only impress the 32 participating teams but will also provide a solid foundation for the further development of football after the World Cup in Russia. In addition to the World Cup arenas, around 100 stadiums with smaller capacities were built, now there are 1.900 in the country.
The number of football fields increased from 18.000 to 26.000 in recent years. President Vladimir Putin, whose favourite sports are judo and ice hockey, made his homage to football, when he said at the opening ceremony: “Russians love football, it is what we call love at first sight, ever since the first official match was held in the country in 1897.” And FIFA President Gianni Infantino added:”Football will conquer Russia, and from Russia, football will conquer the world.”
A peaceful conquest – with love from Russia.