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With the blessing of West-Kazakhstan's Akim and generous, enlightened support from several sources, most significantly Karachaganak Petroleum Operating BV, Uralsk has become a forum and musical proving ground for young string players here (in this instance) from Pacific Asia, Central Asia and Peninsula Europe.

Mark Malkovich (left) and Howard Smith receive a traditional Kazakh welcome with confectionary offerings in the snow. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith
Mark Malkovich (left) and Howard Smith receive a traditional Kazakh welcome with confectionary offerings in the snow. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith

At Schipol incoming jurists, journalists and musical reinforcements (wind players) were repeatedly delayed while Astana Airlines found a functioning power unit, to replace the faulty Boeing 757 generator used for firing up craft on the ground in Uralsk. Eventually however, after some four hours flying across the wintry East Europe landscape the visitors stepped into keen minus fifteen degree air on Uralsk's icy tarmac, enveloped in the morning dark; several had flown from England, festival director Mark Malkovich came from Newport, Rhode Island, conductor and violinist Kazuki Sawa was here from Japan, while the writer began his journey in Wellington, New Zealand.

Mark Malkovich and Kazuki Sawa travel in traditional Kazakh style. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith
Mark Malkovich and Kazuki Sawa travel in traditional Kazakh style. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith

Clearly this event has already become a milestone in the cultural life of Uralsk; administrative centre of the 151,000 square kilometre West Kazakhstan Oblast. A competition that began early in 2003 was about to confirm its true credentials and pave a way for the future. And here on-site was the newly established, thoroughly professional Uralsk Philharmonic (Chamber) Orchestra; an ensemble that would excite the visitors with its musical vitality and purposeful unanimity.

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Copyright © 7 March 2004 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand

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