“Is there anything to do in St Petersburg besides museums?”


All seats offer stunning sound quality with this unique design

 I often answer questions on Trip Advisor as there first and now only Destination Expert for St Petersburg and a frequent question is where there is anything to do in the city besides museums, I wrote that “yes, there is”.
Combining that frequent question with a current FB thread on St Petersburg Insider page, In a thread about concert and opera theaters, I figured I would combine topics with about to write on music venues and vocal performance venues. There are many popular classical and general music theaters but one that seldom is talked about by visitors is Mariinsky Concert All. The original ornate Mariinsky Theater and the modern next door neighbor gigantic music and opera theater, and productions, training, and media center, the 2000 seat Mariinsky II are well known.  Mariinsky II is probably the largest acoustically tuned/optimized venue in the world, with 2200 regular seating and 3000 in some configurations. The building is a small city of performing arts and 2000 staff members. Mariinsky original is smaller but late 18th century ornate and palatial, it is hard not to feel like royalty in any seat. It is someplace where you feel uncomfortable dressing too casually knowing the royalty and nobles who sat in your seat in the past. But little is mentioned about the lesser known  Mariinsky Concert Hall.
The 3rd venue in the Mariinsky ensemble the Concert Hall started out as a warehouse where sets were stored and constructed but had a fire that partially destroyed it.

When the Mariinsky Theater was undergoing planned restoration they needed a venue for concerts temporarily. There were other theaters in the city that were suitable but merely “suitable” for the traditions of Mariinsky so a temporary concert hall was built in the old props warehouse. They hired a famed acoustics architect in Japan who came up with an unusual plan with audience seating both front and back of the orchestra position. The opening night was a major event so critics from around the world attended, some very critical of a rival country’s status. I remember the next morning reading a very jaded  NY Times critic headlined his review as “Simply the best concert hall in the world”. He admitted he was prepared to dislike the temporary facility that had been designed as only the temporary solution to be torn down at the end of 4 years. The reviews were essentially unanimous, that the sound in every seat was the best of any concert hall.
Well, the protests started that the planned teardown was going to be a criminal act and the venue was saved from becoming a warehouse again.

So on any given night world-class performances, under the direction of a single artistic director, are offered. There are other classical venues with long histories in the city including the
stunning restoration of the Alexandrinsky Theater, the oldest theater in Russia

Alexandrinsky Theater, the oldest in Russia

and the Shostakovich Philharmonic Hall and others such that deciding where to go is harder than anyplace I have seen in my world travels. Then toss in the jazz venues, rock, blues and drama(more drama theaters than London or NYC), all at affordable prices.
When large touring rock concerts come, tickets are often very high, but they are often in unique settings. Like when the Stones played here several times, it was filling Palace Square next to the Winter Palace.
The coolest little jazz club I know is here. JFC Jazz Club, only 80 seats plus room for 20 standing along one wall that consistently has high-quality performances and always loses money. It is supported by an unnamed benefactor plus a stipend from the large Jazz Philharmonic, so the bookers are not looking for a profit as much as a great show. It is one of those venues where musicians in the audience outnumbered the fans, everyone in attendance is focused on the music and talking is frowned upon by the fans….that is what breaks are for. Downbeat Magazine ranked it as in the top 30 jazz clubs in the world….and it is cheap.
If one is onto pipe organ or opera recitals, the bargain is the Capella, vocal conservatory’s beautiful performance hall where late afternoon concerts are about $5. I am going to write about a free concert series in the heart of the city, few locals even know about in a coming blog article.
If someone is bored in St Petersburg, regardless of their budget, they first need to check their blood pressure to make sure they are not dead.
When a potential visitors ask the question “is there anything to do in St Petersburg other than some museums?” Ah, Yeah

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *