When we think music festivals, our brains go to obvious contenders like The Dirtybird Campout, Coachella, and Bonnaroo. This is natural — as these celebrations offer a chance to listen to some stellar headliners, party our faces off, and dance until our feet blister. Other fests are deeply invested in culture and make it a goal to reflect their surroundings, think Fiji’s Your Paradise or Secret Solstice in Iceland. But there are also more niche music festivals, like those for listeners of classical music. Fests that forgo for the drugs and hard liquor and pair their music with extraordinary wine. And the next big fest in this latter category might just come out of the country of Georgia.
When Americans think about the culture, hospitality, and traditions of Georgia, we’re more likely to think about peaches and sweet tea than we are to make the leap to the country of Georgia, the small nation that sits between Western Asia and Eastern Europe. But the team behind Tsinandali Estate are looking to change that with the launch of what is sure to become a global luxury destination and the site of the Tsinandali Festival, a classical music celebration, and music education program.
I was in Verbier, Switzerland during the Verbier Festival — another world-renowned classical music fest — when the Silk Road Group and the Georgian government held a press conference and lunch at Le Chateau d’ Adrien (an amazing hotel where the staff all seem to eerily know guests by name and the room keys all hang from tiny, leather teddy bears). My knowledge of classical music is fairly limited, as is my French (turns out getting As in college French doesn’t prepare you for making chit chat with strangers over bruschetta and salad), but the press conference cleared up a lot, as did the conversations the team behind the Tsinandali Festival had with me in English directly after.
I quickly learned that Gianandrea Noseda — Tsinandali’s newly named Musical Director — is basically the Travis Scott of classical music and has served as Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. He’s also the Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Like any upstart festival trying to make a name for itself, scoring a star of Noseda’s caliber was a big get. It’s an automatic cosign.
The Tsinandali Estate sits in Kakheti, Georgia’s wine region, and it is set up to be an inclusive destination with a luxury Radisson Collection Hotel and spa, as well as extensive private gardens and a private wine cellar and vineyards. People have been making spectacular vintages of Georgian wine in these vineyards for over 200 years, though it obviously doesn’t have the name recognition of Italian or French regions. I tasted Tsinandali wine at the luncheon and deeply enjoyed it. It was made with a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes, which are local to Georgia, and had a dried apricot flavor that was something like watching the sunset in the countryside.
I was also relieved to discover that I still remembered enough French to drink a lot of wine. “Puis-je obtenir un seau de vin?”
The Estate is as tied to European classical music as it is to European-style wine. The first grand piano in Georgia can be viewed at Tsinandali. Guests can also enjoy the 1000-person-open-air auditorium with retractable roof, where audiences will enjoy the best classical music in the world, including a Pan-Caucus Youth Orchestra, which the team behind the event explained as a way of bringing peace to the region from the bottom up, by connecting young people with a common interest and helping them foster both their talent and relationships with one another.
Why does that last point matter? Well, certainly bringing peace to an area that has historically fraught through culture is awesome. But it’s also awesome to support young classical fans, who are on the rise. A recent story in The Guardian reported the classical music station ClassicFM experienced a 30 percent increase in under-35 listenership over the past year-and-a-half. Millennials and Gen-Z are looking to rediscover music that has remained relevant for centuries. There is a profound human connection in classical music that isn’t present in more disposable pop music.
Young people are also drinking more wine than generations past. Enough to push the whole industry into a “golden age” and delving deep into the experience of analyzing and understanding it. Pair that with the experience-focus of young travelers and you have three elements that might just lead to a smash festival.
If you’ve never been to a classical music performance, it’s probably time. In still pictures, it seems terribly formal with seated people cozying up to instruments. But the moving reality is revelatory. Every member of the orchestra dances to the extent one can in a chair. The conductor emotes from the sway of his or her head to occasional kicks and arm flourishes. It’s theater. So it’s no wonder that when bows are taken, audiences stand and stamp the floor and cheers until artists are forced to take more bows than I have ever seen at another type of musical performance.
Forget swaying with a lighter. Try standing with a thousand charged up classical fans holding a cellist hostage with uproarious applause.
It’s no surprise that Georgia is hoping the fest leads to a tourist spike. Georgia’s Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze stated: “I am convinced that this exceptional complex in its entirety, with its hotel, concert halls, historical vineyards, and wine from the Tzinandali Estate, will make a tremendous contribution to the promotion of our country, including its positioning as the cradle of wine.”
What he neglected to mention was how important the Estate would be to attracting young travelers, wine enthusiasts, and classical music lovers. They are out there and their numbers are growing. It’s time they got as much attention and support as their peers who are buying flower crowns and tabs of acid to hit up other fests. Because that shit is cool, but so is this.