We did it: UK-Russia Year of Music

Between March 2019 and March 2020, our UK-Russia Year of Music included over 200 events, over 400 organisations, over 500 UK artists and a huge spectrum of musical genres. The story was of building something together: horizons expanded, networks widened, knowledge shared, preconceptions shattered and no small amount of music listened to, discussed and – above all else – gratefully received and enjoyed.

Across Russia, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, the Year showcased the excellence, inclusiveness and diversity that define the UK and its music scene. For the public, the events gave a chance to share a mutual appreciation and love of each other’s rich musical traditions, and celebrate the new, while for the music industries of the two countries, in some ways the story is just beginning. The relationships and partnerships fostered during the year have already connected the UK with millions of people in Russia and we can be confident these connections will support more exciting collaborations and opportunities for years to come.

What’s inspiring in Russia is the fascination with UK culture and the idea for a Year of Music was perfect because music is both so diverse and accessible to all. Music was my way into learning languages – I fell in love with German because of Schubert, and one of the reasons I started studying Russian was Shostakovich. It's yet another example of how music changes our lives.

– Michael Bird, Director Russia, British Council / Cultural Counsellor, British Embassy


UK-Russia Year of Music – In One Minute



From the outset, the aim was to celebrate as wide a pool of musical genres as possible and showcase the contemporary and best examples of everything from classical to jazz. The Year would build on the legacy of the UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature (2016) and the Year of Science and Education (2017) with a packed programme of events, talks, skills sharing, online activity and networking opportunities. Below, you’ll find playlists and highlights from the Year including the best classical, contemporary, electronic, jazz and more from the extensive programme.

‘The musical friendship between the UK and Russia on which we have built our year of music is strong. I can't imagine the UK without Russian music. Personally, I have played Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich – just a very few of the composers who have enriched our concert programmes for many years. I think about the deep friendship between our own Benjamin Britten, Rostropovich and Shostakovich at a time when Russia was closed to us, and how culture kept the doors open for friendships to flourish.

‘If you sing or perform music, there's nowhere you can hide. You share what is core to your very being. When you do this together with others, the communication is immensely powerful, soul speaking to soul, obliterating all other extraneous considerations. This is why it is such a force for good in cultural relations. And this is why I am proud and moved by the powerful contribution the Year of Music made to the relationship between the peoples of our two countries.’

– Cathy Graham, Director, Music at the British Council



Our Spotify playlist of the electronic and non-classical side of the UK-Russia programme will give you a taste of the artists involved. But it was so hard making the selections! British Council’s Music Programme Manager Tom Sweet: ‘We worked with well over 200 UK artists from all musical genres and backgrounds. Attempting to include all of them in a single playlist was an impossible task but I think this trimmed-down selection gives a good representation. Personal highlights for me include tracks from artists who featured in the unique collaborations we presented at the British Council-curated stage at Afisha Picnic – Benin City, Lafawndah, Alabaster de Plume, Rosie Lowe – and Present Perfect festival with Rinse FM, which featured Auntie Flo, Mr Mitch and the late, great Andrew Weatherall.’ And here are some of the key events from this part of the programme.


Above: Mercury Prize nominees Black Midi at Bol Festival as part of the UK-Russia Year of Music. Photo credit: Konstantin Konroukhov



We brought three rising stars from the UK to the Zil Cultural Centre in Moscow for Russia’s Bol Festival: post-punk band Warmduscher, experimental rock quartet Black Midi and electronic dance artist SOPHIE. Bol Festival went on to win the Jager Music Award for the best event of 2019.


We presented UK bands Benin City and Rosie Lowe in Kolomenskoye Park in Moscow at one of Russia’s biggest festivals, Afisha Picnic. And a new musical collaboration was formed when Kate NV & Lafawndah and Total Refreshment Centre improvised with Russian musicians. Kommersant newspaper wrote that the UK stage had the most interesting names.


We partnered with RUSH – the first non-commercial, non-state music export initiative in Russia – to present four new Russian bands at The Great Escape festival in Brighton: Shortparis and CHKBNS from St Petersburg and Fogh Depit and Lucidvox from Moscow.


Rinse FM is one of the most influential UK radio stations playing electronic dance music; Present Perfect festival in Russia is respected for its independence and takes place in a dramatic location on the St Petersburg waterfront. Together, we presented the late great DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall, Glasgow-based Auntie Flo and grime producer Mr Mitch.


Iconic Worldwide FM founder and DJ Gilles Peterson was in Moscow to talk about his take on the contemporary music scene, while the Worldwide FM stage saw performances from UK artists including Skinny Pelembe, Emma-Jean Thackray, Elsa Hewitt and Tash LC, increasing the international profile of the artists and the Worldwide FM platform itself which has gathered many new Russian listeners!


The furthest north our programme reached was Murmansk, the largest city in the Arctic Circle, where Robocobra Quartet from Northern Ireland and English composer-producer Roly Porter played at Inversia Festival. The festival is timed to mark the reappearance of the sun after six weeks of polar night.

Writing for the Guardian, Andrew Dickson was intrigued by the festival where 'everything I experienced over the weekend emphasised the porousness of boundaries – between light and dark, classical and ambient electronics, art forms, nation states'. He also caught up with Robocobora's inimitable drummer and front man Chris Ryan who said: 'It’s amazing to make it up here, and for people to be so welcoming.'

Read more from Chris Ryan when we chatted to him about Russia, Brazil, Ireland and the impact of Covid on his work.






The Year of Music provided fantastic opportunities for the UK classical music sector to showcase high quality music, share new ideas and create encounters with Russian peers. The broad and diverse programme included: workshops and immersive performances with the British Paraorchestra; a union of Russian orchestra managers with their UK counterparts to reimagine the role of the 21st-century orchestra both at the Culture Forum in St Petersburg, Siberia, and the ABO conference in Manchester; next generation artists including Laura van der Heijden, Jamal Aliyev and Timothy Ridout on concert platforms across Russia; as well as performances from established ensembles such as I Fagiolini.

Classical highlights from the Year of Music include the following events. Listen to the playlist below for an even better idea!


Above: Ben Baker and Timothy Ridout wowed audiences in Krasnoyarsk as part of the British Music Season in Siberia. Photo courtesy of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Philharmonic Orchestra



Sir George Benjamin himself was in the audience as his new opera Lessons in Love and Violence received its Russian premiere at the Mariinsky Concert Hall in St Petersburg. The London Chamber Orchestra and guest British soloists were conducted by young British conductor Oliver Zeffman. Benjamin, a passionate admirer of Russian culture, also took part in a public conversation about his life and work and said: ‘This was one of the most exciting and moving trips of my life … to visit glorious St Petersburg and attend that remarkable performance of my opera was a dream come true and something I will never forget.’

There was also huge excitement to have George Benjamin in the audience for a public screening of the BBC’s Imagine documentary about his life and work.


In partnership with the Krasnoyarsk Regional Philharmonia we developed a diverse programme of collaborative projects in a number of Siberian cities in addition to the hub city of Krasnoyarsk. Nicholas McCarthy, the only one-handed pianist to graduate from the Royal College of Music, performed with the Siberian State Symphony Orchestra, as did violinist Benjamin Baker and viola player Timothy Ridout.


In the spring Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and the School of London from Tate Britain was accompanied by three concerts, one highlight of which was Marcus Farnsworth singing Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King. In the winter, December Nights, the most prestigious classical music festival in Moscow, was linked to a major Thomas Gainsborough exhibition from over a dozen UK museums and featured British ensembles including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and I Fagiolini.

PARAORCHESTRA with Charles Hazelwood

Paraorchestra is the world’s only large-scale, professional, integrated orchestra in which brilliant musicians with disabilities are seen and heard in their rightful place alongside non-disabled musicians. Conducted by Charles Hazlewood, the ensemble’s performances at Garage in Moscow, which is at the forefront of inclusive approaches to art in Russia, were a revelation for the audience. With the freedom to move around the space and weave in amongst the performers, the audience were shown just what is possible when perceptions of classical music making are challenged.





The UK-Russia Year of Music wasn’t just about live music events. It also included opportunities for music professionals from both countries to exchange ideas, make connections and develop awareness or build on existing skills.


‘It’s a joy to share the process of writing with other composers, and the terror of a blank screen is the same everywhere,’ said Michael Price, as the Sherlock composer visited Moscow to share his wisdom with emerging film and TV composers. The composers told us it was a career defining experience to work with someone with of? Michael’s calibre and experience. As part of the Year of Music, Michael has also contributed his ‘perfect playlist’ to Yandex, the Russian music streaming service.


Selector PRO is a professional development programme, inspired by the British Council’s Selector radio show, and connects music people around the world with music experts from the UK. In partnership with Moscow Music School we offered workshops in artist management, song writing, music production and music performance from a number of brilliant UK organisations and experts.


We partnered with Parallel, which fosters the visibility of women and gender balance in the Russian music industry, to run a professional development programme for women. Saffron Records from Bristol ran a workshop for female DJs and Brighter Sound from Manchester worked on song writing with female producers.


Attitude is Everything, which improves deaf and disabled people’s access to live music by working in partnership with audiences, artists and the music industry, led a workshop on making outdoor events accessible for deaf and disabled audiences and gave a public talk on Music without Barriers.


As part of our FCDO-funded Future Culture programme for future cultural leaders, we brought ten leaders from the UK music sector, including Gillian Moore of Southbank Centre, Huw Stephens of BBC Music Introducing and Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records, to talk to audiences of music professionals and students in Moscow and St Petersburg. ‘I made some very good connections and am in touch with a number of people that I met in both St Petersburg and Moscow,’ said Gillian Moore. ‘Both Garage and New Holland are vibrant and exciting new venues.’ And one member of the audience for her talk remarked, ‘I admired the energy and experience of Gillian Moore. I understood that the UK is a much more complex country in terms of culture than I thought.’



The Year of Music provided an opportunity for the development of new relationships between UK and Russian creatives as well as showcasing UK music and enabling international collaboration. Relationships that were begun during the Year will spark new ideas and connections that will have a life well beyond the 12 months of the Year itself. Through a scheme of small grants, we supported 15 UK artists and producers to travel to Russia to expand their networks and explore new avenues for their practice. Successful applicants included: Cathie Boyd (Cryptic), Vicki Clarke (sound and electronic media artist), Andy Brydon (Curated Place) and Joby Burgess (percussionist).


Above: Kathy Hinde travelled to Kaliningrad, Russia as part of her UK-Russia music residency. Photo courtesy of the RUSH music initiative.



We have launched many music residencies over the years with our friends at PRS Foundation but this was a first on two counts – our first in Russia and the first residency with musicians moving in both directions. As the Year came to a close in March 2020, Steph Singer’s residency in Ekaterinburg came to an end a little earlier than scheduled as Covid-19 swept across the globe. But, in the true spirit of the Year, we’re excited to hear Steph’s plans for an ambitious new immersive work that will build on the inspiration of her Russia residency. Watch this space!



Part of: 
UK-Russia Year of Music