A few days ago, I was sitting in a magnificent and beautiful corner of Azerbaijan and listening along with my Israeli friends wonderful music Sergey Rachmaninov – Concert No 4 for piano and orchestra performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Once again, I thought that Republic of Azerbaijan- this remarkable, prestigious and hospitable country of the South Caucasus, Israel's strategic partner in Eurasia has become the center of attraction for excellent musicians, a real platform for friendship of cooperation, partnership, tolerance and a true model of multiculturalism. I am very proud that famous Jerusalem Symphonic Orchestra have participated at the X Qabala International Festival. 

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, IBA, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this season, was founded as the Palestine Broadcasting Service Orchestra in the late 1930s. In 1948 it became the National Radio Orchestra and was known as the “Kol Israel Orchestra”. In the 1970s, the orchestra was expanded into the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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Over the decades, some of the music world’s legendary musicians have performed with the JSO, with memorable performances by Igor Stravinsky, Otto Klemperer, Arthur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Isaac Stern, Pablo Casals, Igor Markevitch, Henryk Szeryng, Yo Yo Ma, Pierre Boulez, Neville Mariner, Christa Ludwig, Tabea Zimmermann, Martha Argerich, Radu Lupu, Jose Carreras, Jean Pierre Rampal, Maxim Vengerov and Yefim Bronfman.


The Tenth International Music Festival was held in August in Qabala with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and organized by Azerbaijan´s Culture and Tourism Ministry. The 10-day festival included a young pianists´ competition, classical music nights and a mugham concert. The works of Azerbaijani and European composers represent the programme of oriental and western music at the Qabala festival: Qara Qarayev, Fikrat Amirov, Uzeyir Hacibayov, Petr Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Charles-Camille, Edward Grieg, Sergey Rachmaninov, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert and others.

The Azerbaijani people have always cherished their culture, language, literature, poetry and music, elements that have preserved the spirit of our nation through the centuries, Azerbaijan’s First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva said in the congratulatory letter to the participants of the X Gabala International Music Festival.

“The tenth anniversary edition of this splendid celebration of music held in Gabala coincides with a particularly special occasion for our country: the Centenary of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic, the first Parliamentary Republic in the Muslim East. The Azerbaijani people have always cherished their culture, language, literature, poetry and music, elements that have preserved the spirit of our nation through the centuries. Azerbaijan created the first Opera, first Ballet and first Conservatoire (the Baku Academy of Music) in the Muslim East is a source of pride for each Azerbaijani citizen.

We have always sought to preserve, nurture and promote the unique pearls of our national music heritage around the world. At the same time, as a country that has contributed to the development of dialogue between civilizations across the centuries, we attach particular importance to the realization of projects that facilitate the cultural and intellectual interaction of peoples. The Gabala international Music Festival has made invaluable contributions to this goal since its first edition in 2009. We see the Festival as a highly important means of mutually enriching the music cultures of diverse nations, and of further boosting friendly relations between them,” said the First Vice-president of Azerbaijan Republic.

The Gabala International Music Festival is a wonderful initiative of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation,” world-famous conductor and cellist Dmitry Yablonsky, one of the festival`s artistic directors said me during the exclusive interview. “This event is one of the best for high level of organization among the music festivals held worldwide. During the festival, which is traditionally held every year, the world's most famous music bands, chamber and symphonic orchestras, world-renowned performers, conductors come together to showcase their skills,” Yablonsky said.

He hailed the friendly relations between Azerbaijan and Israel in the field of culture and art. "Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shi’a Muslim country, is also home to several other ethnic and religious groups, including ancient Zoroastrian, Christian, and Jewish communities. Respect and tolerance for national minorities has played a vital role in the development of the country from antiquity to the days of the Silk Road to modernity.

Unlike many cultures, Azerbaijanis have never viewed Jews as foreigners or aliens. Israelis with roots in Azerbaijan are doing a great deal to foster the economic and even geopolitical cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel. The Jewish people have never experienced any discrimination, harassment, insults, pogroms or any anti-Semitic actions in Azerbaijan. Every Jew who has ever visited Azerbaijan can confirm that the Jews living here can in all freedom visit a synagogue without going through a police cordon, walk around the city in their national clothes and with a bale on their heads, while doing so today in developed countries of the West can be dangerous. The State of Israel has repeatedly expressed its appreciation for Azerbaijan’s warm and unique attitude of President Ilham Aliyev towards the Jewish community" – said world-famous conductor and cellist Dmitry Yablonsky.

"Azerbaijani-Israeli relations are a positive, strategic partnership" –Jerusalem Symphonic Orchestra General Director Yair Shtern said me during the exclusive interview at the X Qabala International Festival. "Azerbaijan is a true model of inter-civilizational and interfaith dialogue. Tolerance and multiculturalism are key foundations of the Azerbaijani society. Azerbaijan has made a concerted effort to create and foster the necessary political and social conditions for developing and strengthening the country’s traditions of multiculturalism and tolerance"- said Yair Shtern.

These days became an act of spiritual unity - and not only for foreign guests and Qabala residents. Baku residents also arrived here with great pleasure. This kind of family holiday becomes a national festivity. Family events, as you know, are especially revered in the East. What family event can take place without friends?

The goal of such forums is to expand the borders for contact between people of good will. As experience shows, such events more than justify themselves. First, music, like any other form of art, knows no borders or nationality. It can speak to people better than any diplomat, in a language that is understood by all hearts and unites them, bypassing the divisive conventions invented by mankind in the form of strictly outlined geographical and territorial borders. Second, the music culture of Azerbaijan is becoming the property of the world. The best of the best professionals and participants subsequently include works by Azerbaijani composers in their programmes.

What makes Qabala’s festival special, if not unique, is that the concerts are free. Music lovers gathered early every evening outside the chamber music hall in order to get a good seat. It was always a full house. Later the crowd moved to the outdoor stage for a much bigger open-air concert. Seating was provided at ground level and on a raised platform. These concerts were exceptionally popular. In fact, so many people attended that the festival organizers brought in truckloads of extra chairs on several occasions and set them up on the grassy slope overlooking the stage. There was a real feeling of excitement in the crowd before each concert and very appreciative ovations at the end.

Another remarkable aspect of this spirit of generosity is the fact that musicians are invited to stay at the luxurious resort – not just, because they are performing, but so that they can mix with other musicians and attend their concerts. It was quite thrilling for me to rub shoulders with so many world-famous musicians. In addition, it was lovely to see so many animated conversations going on between musicians as they gathered in the resort’s dining hall.

Seemingly endless warm sunny days, long balmy evenings with moonlit nights, star-studded by many of the world´s top musicians. This is the Qabala music festival, set in a steep tree-lined valley directly beneath the Caucasus Mountains. Qabala music festival at once captivates and impresses and leaves a long-lasting memory of beauty and musical excellence; so much so that performers return year after year, delighted to experience yet again the beauty of the setting, the mountain air and Azerbaijani hospitality, but most of all the unique bonhomie which artistic directors Farhad Badalbeyli and Dmitry Yablonsky exude to all who come here, whether to listen or perform.

It is essentially a festival of classical music, but atmosphere is all and mugham, Azerbaijan´s own form of traditional music, seasons the festival. Sometimes the influence is total, such as during the mugham musical evening, but much of the time, the influence is very much more subtle. Mugham is an intrinsic part of the festival. It is not merely played alongside. When the music of the tar joins that of the orchestra, the tar player performs from within the orchestra, and it is this inclusion, which attracts performers and audience alike.
Azerbaijan multiculturalism is in action and reality was reflected at the X Qabala International Music Festival. Coexistence and harmony of peoples, cultures, religions and music only in Azerbaijan....

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