Summer 2004 (12.2)
of Baku's Prestigious Concert Hall
by Abid Sharifov,
Deputy Prime Minister
Other articles about Rostropovich
The Home Museum" by Gulnar Aydamirova. (AI 11.2, Summer
Happy 75th Birthday. World-Famous Cellist Celebrates in Baku."
(AI 10.1, Spring 2002)
Responsibility. When Silence is Not Golden." Conversations
with Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya by Claude
Samuel. (AI 13.2, Summer 2005)
& Galina: Celebrating Their 50th Wedding Anniversary"
by Betty Blair and Sheyla Heydarova. (AI 13.2, Summer 2005)
People: Then and Now. Mstislav Rostropovich - Cellist and Conductor
(1927-2007)." (AI 7.4, Winter1999)
Celebrates 70th Jubilee in Baku." (AI 5.2, Summer 1997)
Philharmonic Hall was originally built in 1910-1912 [pre-Soviet
times], not as a concert hall but more as Business Center and
Club for Baku's elite. Then in 1936 the Soviet government made
the decision to convert this beautiful building into a Philharmonic
hall. At that time, there were no other concert halls in the
city other than the Opera Theater.
Unlike many buildings in the city that are made of stone, this
one was primarily made of wood. And over the years, the level
of subsoil water had risen, and parts of the building were beginning
to rot. In 1996, President Heydar Aliyev commissioned me, as
the person in charge of the construction of government buildings
in Azerbaijan, to examine the building and give my assessment.
That's when we decided to stop holding events there to avoid
So we began to strengthen the foundation and walls. But since
the building was constructed at the beginning of last century,
there were no conveniences that met present-day standards, such
as heating, air-conditioning and sound systems.
Above: Philharmonic Hall reopened on January
30, 2004, featuring world-renown cellist Mstislav Rostropovich,
who was born in Baku in 1927.
The President gave us the task to start the actual renovation
in May 2002. By the time, we got organized, we had only about
seven or eight months to complete the work in time for the President's
80th birthday on May 10th. To tell you the truth, it was a very
difficult task because we still had not even ordered anything:
no equipment, no building material, nothing.
Top: (left) President Heydar Aliyev with
Rostropovich and his wife, the famous opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya,
on the occasion of Rostropovich's 75th Jubilee in Baku, 2002.
Original plans were for the Philharmonic to open marking President
Aliyev's 80th birthday on May 10, 2003. Photo: Rafig Baghirov
Right: In the final months
of renovation, the construction team worked in 3 shifts, 24 hours
around the clock. Photo: Blair
Bottom: (left) From left to right: Minister
of Culture Polad Bulbuloghlu, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich,
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. Right: Opening night. Lower
right hand corner: distinguished composer of the first concertos
ever written for Tar, Kamancha and Harp, Haji Khanmammadov, 85.
Photos: Rafig Baghirov
Left: View from Rotunda entrance on Istiglaliyyat Street.
It was impossible to explain to Mr. President that something
was impossible. Somehow, we had to find a way to do it. He told
me that he personally would be overseeing the project and would
be coming to check if the building met up to world standards.
We were charged with reconstructing the building without changing
its appearance. I'll tell you frankly, it was a very difficult
task. The decision was made to finance the project from the budget.
The building costs us around $18 million and all the work was
done by local construction companies.
I had to spend so much time on the project including afternoons
and nights. We organized three shifts to work around the clock
24 hours, seven days a week. All in all, we ordered equipment
and supplies from 10 different countries: US, UK, Italy, Germany,
Sweden, Czech Republic and others. Due to the lack of time, most
of the supplies and equipment had to be shipped in the luggage
compartment of passenger planes. Under normal circumstances,
we would never have done that.
The Philharmonic Hall had very unique acoustics, which are rarely
found in buildings of this type. We had to engineer so many kilometers
of wire in the building. Today when you go there, you won't notice
anything. The wires are all hidden. We left everything as it
was before, we just restored it.
Left: View from Niyazi Street. Blair
We also reinforced the building seismically to be able to withstand
any earthquake up to 7.0 on the Richter scale. We put in a centralized
air conditioning system that would not produce any noise to interfere
with the concerts.
If not for the President's constant prodding, the job would not
have been finished so quickly. Nearly every 10 days or so, the
President would ask me how the work was progressing. Then he
wanted to know: "When can I finally come to see it done?"
I told him it would be the end of March. "Why the end of
March?" he asked. "So that I've got something to show
you." And so he came to take a look and he seemed very pleased.
There have been very few times in my life when he was not criical
of something. This was the only time when he had no criticism.
He was surprised with the quality of the work and thanked us
for this job.
As you know, world-renown cellist Mstislav
Rostropovich was born in Baku though he lives in Paris these
days. But every year when he visited Baku [beginning in 1997]
to give Master Classes and perform himself, he used to ask the
President: "When am I finally going to be able to perform
in the Philharmonic?" It's so disappointing that the President
passed away before he was able to open the Philharmonic. [President
Aliyev passed away on December 15, 2003]. The Philharmonic
held its first concert on January 30, 2004. And Rostropovich
did come to Baku for this occasion.
Well, what else can I say? The Philharmonic has always been one
of the landmarks in our city. We, Azeris, are proud of the fact
that it was due to the efforts of Azerbaijani specialists, mostly
local experts, that we managed to renovate and reconstruct the
building. So, we have brought this pleasure back to life, the
pleasure that Baku people and guests of our capital get when
visiting the Philharmonic, thanks to the efforts of our late
Abid Sharifov is Azerbaijan's
Deputy Prime Minister in charge of construction. Over his long
career working with Heydar Aliyev, he has been in charge of many
architectural projects including the President's Office, building
of National Security Ministry, Absheron hotel, apartment complexes
here, the President's residence and many other projects.
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