ASTANA – Astana has been home to a globetrotting musician for the past two years, and Astana Opera for one. Originally from northwest Wales, Ross Clarke came to the capital of Kazakhstan on the recommendation of a good friend to work at Haileybury Astana, where he conducted the international choir. Two years later, he is a full-time member of the Astana Opera.
Prior to moving here, Clarke studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and also spent six months in Berlin studying under Konradin Groth at the University of Arts. He was a semi-finalist in the Texaco Young Musician of Wales competition in 2005 and a quarterfinalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2006.
Clarke is also a keen composer and won a class in the National Eisteddfod of Wales in Newport 2004 for a brass fanfare piece. He continues to write music today. Clarke was also a founding member of Eschoir and has sung for his native country with Edward Hallinan at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
In 2013, Clarke formed the Astana Music Society, comprising of a choir and many other ensembles who play across Astana at various events. The Astana Music Society is designed to join local and expat musicians and fans of music.
Two and a half years after moving to Astana, Clarke says he is “very happy here,” adding “the food, the people, the weather here are great!”
How does music you were used to compare with local traditions? Any similarities or anything unusual?
Folk music is like folk music anywhere. Every place in the world has a unique tradition and sound, and Kazakhstan is no different. The sound of the dombra, and the specific Kazakh rhythm (which is instantly recognisable) are a great complement to the fantastic people and landscape of Kazakhstan. The Kazakh songs are also very beautiful, but nothing beats a Kazakh orchestra with a huge set of dombras! In our concert on Feb. 27, in the world premiere by Simon Wills [of a piece] written specifically for this concert on two themes, one Welsh, one Kazakh, the Kazakh theme was instantly recognised by some Kazakh audience members.
Could you tell us about the Welsh weekend festival that you recently organised?
It all started with the arrival of four Welsh brass players [Rupert Whitehead, Edward Hallinan, Jason Lewis and Oli Hickie] on Feb. 26 to play with me in a brass quintet called Pres Y Ddraig. They absolutely loved it here and they said it was absolutely nothing like what they expected. They felt so welcome by their fellow brass players at [Astana Opera] and by everyone. They also said the food was great, and they couldn’t believe how many different types of vodka there were in the supermarket! …
The concert was a sellout, and I have heard only great things about it!
Then on Feb. 28 came rugby on the river. We accidentally bumped into the Astana Rugby team (who we weren’t aware existed) and invited them to join. It was a great game, and one of the Welsh brass players even had the pleasure of attending a Kazakh hospital as he fell on a cone and cut his eyebrow. But with a 90-minute turn around in the hospital, we were back with everyone else enjoying cawl [a traditional Welsh stew], Welsh cakes, Norwegian salmon and mulled wine by the river. … It was a great weekend and exhausting, but one to remember, and one to welcome in spring in Astana as the snow is gradually melting. Everyone had such a great time and everyone now knows a little bit more about our small, fabulous nation and how rich it is in culture.
Let’s see what next year brings …
What do you plan to do in the future?
The future. Well, for now I am here for a while, but who knows? I follow whatever adventure, whichever way it takes me. If a door opens, I will more often than not walk through it …