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Moscow’s open air a cappella festival – part of Moscow Seasons

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Moscow for the first time to attend the second ‘Moscow Spring A Cappella‘ festival, one of the largest a cappella events in the world, and part of a series of seasonal street events across the Russian capital known as ‘Moscow Seasons‘. Moscow Seasons is a comparatively new initiative from the Government of Moscow, celebrating different events throughout the year, that sees the city attract tens of millions of people. For those who don’t know ‘a cappella’ literally means ‘in the manner of the chapel’ but is a term used for music that is sung without instrumental accompaniment. This year, the Moscow Spring A Cappella was even bigger than last year’s inaugural event and saw 184 participants from 16 different countries, including Russia (40 regions of Russia were represented), the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, China, Korea, India and Hungary to name just some. Notable a cappella bands taking part included Metro Vocal Group (Hong Kong), B Vocal (Spain), Opus Jam (France), The Buzztones (Great Britain), The Alley Cats (USA) and Maytree (Korea). What’s more, all the festival activities – whether it be concerts, master classes, workshops or whatever – are completely free for visitors. This makes the event open to all and gives the whole city a very welcoming feel for the duration of the festival. Public spaces embrace the event in spades, and the streets are decorated accordingly. It also encourages both locals and visitors alike to explore the city on foot, as performances largely centre upon the heart of the city at venues within easy walking distance of each other. Bands that are perhaps used to performing in famous concert halls or large music venues instead find themselves singing outdoors on beautifully-adorned temporary stages in public spaces across the city like the one pictured below. Over 60 venues are opened on the streets, squares and boulevards of Moscow, as well as on the roofs and balconies of houses, and in parks, and literally hundreds of performances are hosted. The festival is also embraced by Muscovites and Russians alike who get involved in a variety of ways, whether they be performing, watching or offering their support. The Moscow Spring A Cappella event is in fact supported by 192 merchants and 90 restaurants across the city, with many restaurateurs putting together a special Spring menu for the festival. I only caught the tail-end of the event which lasted over a week, but was able to catch a few performances on video which I can share with you here to give you a feel for not only the quality of the singing, but also to hopefully convey at least some of the friendly and relaxed atmosphere that pervaded the city’s streets. First I give you Metro Vocal Group which is a dynamic and innovative American a cappella group based in Hong Kong that is hailed as one of the best a cappella groups in Asia. Members of the group use their voices to imitate percussion, trumpets, guitars and miscellaneous sound effects as well as full melodies with harmony.
YouTube video
We also listened to Naama Women′s Choir conducted by Ms. Pnina Inbar. With the support of Israel’s Ministry of Culture, Naama offers a diverse repertoire that includes a wide range of classical works from all periods, original Israeli compositions written for the choir, Israeli and international folk songs, and more.
YouTube video
YouTube video
I also enjoyed a number of performances by the US group THUMMp. Based out of Michigan, many of the members have been performing contemporary a cappella music together for over 20 years.
YouTube video
YouTube video
As you can see, there’s a huge variety to enjoy. And, in addition to watching and listening to the performances, many creative master classes are held at the festival. You can learn how to sing yourself in different styles (jazz, opera and even beatbox!), learn the basics of ballet, modern street dance and modern jazz dance. In addition, you can learn how to make and decorate various musical instruments, attend a drumming workshop (see below) or learn how to cook the favourite dishes of great composers.
YouTube video
As you can see, there’s a huge amount to enjoy whilst the festival is going on, whether it be the performances or other activities that you can get involved it, or simply the quirky, themed decorations dotted about the city. I thought some of the interactive exhibits on the streets were particularly fun. There were these steps with piano keys that actually played notes when you walked over them… …and this large record that played music as you turned it. If you’re considering a trip to Moscow, then this is clearly a great time of year to visit. Alternatively, take a look at the many other events that are going on as part of Moscow Seasons. Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Moscow Seasons – a series of festivals held throughout the year in Moscow, with the support of the Government of Moscow.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Telegraph.

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  1. I love the sound of the atmosphere. I’ve not been to Moscow before but it’s somewhere that’s been on my wishlist for a while… I think I’ll look to go next year and combine my visit with this time of year.

    1. It’s a great time of year to visit with Spring starting to get underway. If you want to visit Red Square, just make sure you are aware of whether your visit co-incides with the Victory Day Parade as the square is closed for some of this period. Enjoy your trip!

  2. I really like this approach of detailing what goes on in a place for each season. I bet that Moscow in winter has some spectacular events going on. I would imagine the Bolshoi always puts together a special season. Looking ahead to Spring there must be a great celebration when the snows start to thaw and the mercury on the thermometer just begins to creep up.

    1. Hi Kate – the Bolshoi has a number of great operas going on this Winter (eg. Spartacus and Don Quixote) but many are already sold out. If you’re going, look into what’s available asap to avoid disappointment! For a full calendar of events (not just the Bolshoi), see https://www.mos.ru/en/afisha/

  3. What an absolutely fabulous event. I’ve been to a few places now for this sort of festival which pulls in performers from all over the world. Not only is it tremendous fun but it is such a great way to find out what’s going on in the world by talking to people, sometimes when they ge together they even break into an impromptu song.

    1. Yes, it was very much an international event, with competitors of course having a common interest. I’m sure many of them knew each other from doing the global a cappella event circuit. The city also had a very relaxed feel to it whilst the event was going on, making it very welcoming for both locals and visitors alike.

  4. Full marks to Moscow for hosting this event. It is important that we do everything we can to keep these traditions alive. The world would be a duller place if we let these traditions just die out.

    1. Indeed. And I have to say there were some very talented singers there. I hope the videos give a sense of this but I should add that this was only a small snapshot of a huge amount of talent to be found right across the city.

    2. And of course the other thing that I like is that the events are free too. It is all too easy to spend a fortune, on admissions to attractions. It’s also great that they are spread throughout the city so there’s entertainment as you visit the regular sights.

  5. Sadly I was born with no musical talent at all. In fact, the music teacher at school told me just to mime the words, that makes me all the more appreciative of people who have been blessed with harmony and a sense of rhythm. Highly impressed with these performances and very envious.

  6. As they had 184 entrants last year you would think that they will probably break the 200 mark this year? It looks as if the participants had such fun that they’ll probably spread the word and the numbers will really swell. I expect that the audiences will be even bigger this year too.

    1. Hi Ben… I imagine that could be very possible! I do get the impression that the participants were truly enjoying what they did… but it went down equally well with the spectators too! As Moscow Seasons is still in its infancy, I see no reason why it won’t continue to grow as news of these events spread.

  7. For me a Cappella singing was always the original and the best. With all our gizmos and high tech gadgets I think that there is a danger that we’ve drifted too far away from what is natural. I would love to be able to make it to this festival and luxuriate in the harmonies.

    1. Yes, there’s something very pure about a cappella singing, without the aid of musical accompaniments. I’m no musician but it amazes me how well they are able to improvise vocally.

  8. I love the costumes. It all looks so much better when they wear the traditional costumes and I expect that some of those are lovingly hand-made too.

    1. Hi Jean… yes, quite probably. I think what you see there is called a sarafan. It’s a traditional folk dress often worn for dance performances or theatre, as well as at weddings and during folk holidays.

  9. A Cappella singing really is a gift from God. I’m just in awe of the people who have been blessed with the skills of tone, pitch, rhythm etc etc to do this. Then there’s me who can’t even read music. I need to get myself to Moscow for one of these festivals.

  10. Presumably this festival is round about the second week of May in 2019 as it was last year?

    I remembered reading this piece and as I’ve just found out that I will be in Moscow for business in early May I thought I’d read the piece again.

    As always with work it will be a busy programme but it would be great out to sneak out of the office and see a performance or two.

    1. The Moscow Seasons website doesn’t appear to have been updated with the 2019 programme just yet. Let me see if I can find out for you… kind regards, Paul

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