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Konstantin Ishkhanov is the Founder and President of the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC), a Malta-based organisation dedicated to promoting and developing classical music and other artistic practises both in Europe and around the world. Hot on the heels of the EUFSC’s InClassica International Music Festival, which took place this August and September in Dubai, we speak to Mr Ishkhanov to learn more about the foundation’s recent activities and how it dealt with the recent turbulence of the last two years.

Konstantin, the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC) was founded by you some years ago. The pace of its development, the range of activities, the locations for its projects and the scale of the activities grows every year, and are now equal to the most significant projects of global significance. How do you evaluate these developments and have all the goals you set at the beginning been achieved? Where is the foundation heading now?

Seeing the development of the EUFSC has been an amazing experience for me, and is something I am very proud of. These achievements represent an incredible amount of hard work on behalf of everyone here at the foundation, and reflect our resounding commitment to achieving the very best in everything we do. The diversification of our portfolio of events, as well as working to expand the reach and scale of our existing projects, is something that is vital to our organisation and, I believe, one of the main reasons for our continued success. One such example of this is the Malta International Music Festival: when we started this project back in 2011, we featured only a handful of artists and concerts. Now, when we compare this to the most recent edition of this festival — which this year we in fact held in Dubai due to Malta’s current COVID-19 restrictions — we see how much the event has grown, this year welcoming thirty-seven world-renowned soloists, seven leading orchestras and eleven celebrated conductors. However, these things do not simply happen. They are the result of years of experience and, crucially, of forging deep and meaningful relationships with our artists. The music world is a small one and word travels quickly — if one keeps their promises and consistently delivers events that resonate with people, they keep working with you.

How do you grapple with the realities of modern life with the COVID-19 pandemic? Last year you featured some online projects, for example the online festival in Armenia which you presented together with the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (ASSO). Additionally, this year you moved the InClassica International Music Festival to Dubai. How do you see the further development of cultural events around the world, and specifically the projects of your foundation? Do you believe the world will go back to the way it was, or should we look for new ways of developing?

It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic presented us with significant challenges as an organisation, challenges which are indeed still something we grapple with on a day-to-day basis. However, one must adapt in order to survive and be willing to embrace new ideas and ways of operating, with the partial move to online content as well as reaching out to less restrictive territories good examples of this as you have mentioned. The benefits to both of these approaches are self-evident, but it is also worth mentioning that they do have their limits, and that fundamentally they are not the primary reason the EUFSC was founded. While it is true that we are always keen to expand the reach of our activities — and have seen fantastic successes doing this in places like Dubai, for example — we nonetheless remain committed to maintaining a strong presence in Europe and other parts of the world. In fact, despite the hardships as a result of COVID-19, this year we nevertheless managed to organise a significant number of projects in Italy, Malta, Russia, Germany, Japan, Uzbekistan, Austria and other countries. In terms of the use of digital content, this is something that even aside from its clear benefits at this time, should not — in our belief, at least — ever replace live events. The experience of hearing an orchestra perform live, for example, is something that is impossible to replicate. How things will develop around the world over time is, of course, impossible to predict, but we remain steadfast in our determination and drive to continue presenting to the public the very best in classical music. 

Educational projects are an integral part of the EUFSC’s activities, including music academies all over the world and a large-scale competition for pianists. What niche does the educational component of your activities occupy in the foundation's mission, and why do you pay so much attention to education in classical music?

Educational initiatives are indeed a vitally important part of the EUFSC’s activities. This is for many reasons, but a main one is our recognition of the unbelievable benefits events like academies and competitions confer upon young people. The positive effects of learning a musical instrument are well documented in scientific literature, and to be able to lend our expertise to this endeavour is something we are very proud of. With regard to those students wishing to pursue music to a higher level, these events are particularly valuable, providing them with direct access to some of the most respected and knowledgeable professors in the world, as well as helping them achieve vital visibility at a formative stage in their career. This year we presented the Classic Piano International Competition in Dubai, an event which welcomed participants from around the world ranging from the ages of 15–36, with the winner securing not only a record-breaking top prize, but in addition a tour of concert performances across the globe taking place this year and in 2022. We designed the prize in this way due to our belief that ongoing support and continued exposure are vitally important to creating a sustainable career, and we are very proud of this aspect to the competition. Lastly, on a personal note, seeing the musical development of my own son as he has studied piano has brought home to me the incredible benefits that good educational opportunities can provide, and has reaffirmed my commitment to this as a central part of the EUFSC’s activities.  

Your foundation has been working with the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra for more than five years, including for festivals in Armenia, an orchestral tour and other initiatives. What was the push for your cooperation? How do you evaluate the cultural life in Armenia today and what opportunities do you think await Armenian musicians in the future?

We have a special relationship with the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (ASSO) it’s true, one that is both important to us and yielded many incredible concerts and other projects. I have known their Founder, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, Sergey Smbatyan, for many years now, and have witnessed him develop professionally into a conductor of significant international standing. In fact, he now serves as Principal Conductor for the ASSO and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, something which as a Maltese organisation we are overjoyed to see. The cooperation with the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra developed very organically, though I personally had some knowledge of Armenia’s cultural landscape prior to this due to my family’s Armenian roots. In terms of the cultural life in Armenia today, I believe it is one of immense dynamism and momentum, and home to many fantastic musicians such as the 2005 Winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, the incredible violinist Sergey Khachatryan, who we in fact featured as part of our InClassica Festival this year in Dubai. Armenia and its artistic community continue to gain visibility across the world, which is in no small part due to the huge amount of talent the country is home to. It has been a pleasure for us as an organisation to collaborate with Armenian artists such as the ASSO, and we look forward to many more projects together in the future. In regard to the future prospects for Armenian artists on the international stage, only time will tell. However, if recent history is anything to go by, I am sure it will be a very bright one.

To find about more about the EUFSC, visit their official website.

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