We recently spoke with Yerkin Tatishev, founder of Kusto Group and co-founder of the renowned Tsinandali classical music festival held annually at the Tsinandali Estate in Kakheti, Georgia that will run from 31 August and 10 September. Since the establishment of the Tsinandali Festival in 2019, Yerkin Tatishev and Kusto Group have continued to support philanthropic and cultural projects in the country and internationally, and continue to embody the vision that music can be one of the bridges that could lead to reconciliation, peace and unity during times of great division. Recently, Mr. Tatishev assumed the position of Chairman of Almaty Management University, Kazakhstan’s oldest private university, where he will work closely with the esteemed faculty and dedicated staff to strengthen the faculty’s position, help develop academic programs and foster international collaborations.
Kusto Group’s origins lie in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In newly independent Kazakhstan, Yerkin Tatishev joined his close friends to help turn around a failing mining operation in the Zhitikara region of the country, with the aim of revitalising devastated single-industry towns. By developing and using advanced technologies, the group was able to reverse the decline and return the mines to profitability, which later brought them the capital to found Kusto Group, today a globally recognised company that employs over 8,000 people.
Today, more than twenty years later, Kusto Group is one of the leading companies originating from Kazakhstan with operations and activities in nine countries: Singapore, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Israel, Italy, the US, and Canada.
After decades in business and philanthropy, we speak to Yerkin Tatishev about what inspires him and how the Kusto Group went to become one of the co-founders of Georgia’s Tsinandali Festival.
Balkanist Magazine: Mr. Yerkin Tatishev, we appreciate your time today to discuss the Tsinandali Festival and your vision for its future. Could you please share with our readers a brief background on the Tsinandali Festival and its significance, and what inspired Kusto Group’s involvement?
Yerkin Tatishev: Thank you for having me and thank you for the continued interest in the Tsinandali Festival. The Tsinandali Festival is an extraordinary celebration of classical music held annually in the picturesque Tsinandali Estate in Georgia’s Kakheti region. It brings together renowned artists, talented young musicians, and music enthusiasts from around the world in celebration of peace, culture and unity. As one of the co-founders, Kusto Group’s vision and values are no different to Tsinandali Festival’s. From the very beginning, we aimed to transcribe our personal aspirations and values that place classical music at the centre of our society’s cultural development, and in that regard, we wanted to create a central annual event that can celebrate these values.
Today, Kusto Group continues to support the festival’s expansion, and we believe that the Tsinandali Festival has become a significant cultural platform that fosters dialogue, promotes mutual understanding, and celebrates the rich heritage of classical music in Georgia that dates back hundreds of years.
Balkanist Magazine: As one of the co-founders of the festival, could you tell us what inspired you to initiate the Tsinandali Festival and what role you see it playing in promoting cultural exchange?
Yerkin Tatishev: The inspiration behind the Tsinandali Festival was rooted in my deep appreciation for music and its universal language since early childhood. I firmly believe that music has the power to transcend cultural, linguistic, and geographic boundaries, and this is something that I cherished for decades. Together with our partners, we wanted to create a platform where diverse cultures could converge, fostering understanding, and promoting dialogue through the shared experience of music, regardless of the cultural differences and backgrounds. The Tsinandali Festival serves as a catalyst for cultural exchange not only in the region, but beyond, allowing artists and audiences to connect on a profound level, celebrating our shared humanity. We believe these could help us bridge the gaps that exists in the region and the world today and can help us better communicate and understand each other.
Balkanist Magazine: The Tsinandali Festival has gained international recognition for its Pan Caucasian Youth Orchestra, a full youth symphony orchestra led by Music Director Gianandrea Noseda. What motivated the Tsinandali Festival to establish this ensemble, and what impact has it had on the festival and the participating musicians?
Yerkin Tatishev: The Pan Caucasian Youth Orchestra holds a special place in my heart. Every year, live auditions are held to select young and talented musicians from the Caucasus countries Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Ukraine and Turkmenistan. As members of the PCYO, young artists are given the chance to work with world class international coaches, conductors and soloists during the Tsinandali Festival.
We established this ensemble to provide young musicians from diverse backgrounds with a unique opportunity to come together and showcase their talent. By bringing together these talented individuals from the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the wider region, we create an environment where they can learn from each other, break down cultural barriers, and form lifelong connections and friendships. The impact has been tremendous over the years, not only in terms of musical development but also in fostering mutual respect and understanding among the participating musicians, and this is something that has been recognised by our audiences.
Balkanist Magazine: The Tsinandali Festival has become known as a platform for cultural diplomacy. How do you envision the festival’s role in promoting dialogue and fostering positive relationships between nations in the future?
Yerkin Tatishev: Since the beginning, Tsinandali Festival’s vision was driven by the ideas of cultural diplomacy that can help bridge the differences that exists in the region and beyond through something that can unite us all – music. Today, Tsinandali Festival is not only there to promote music and culture, but also dialogue and conversations. By creating an inclusive and welcoming environment, we have encouraged artists and audiences from different nations to come together and engage in meaningful dialogue, create friendships and connect. Through music, we can transcend political, social, and historical differences and focus on a passion that can be shared by all.
Balkanist Magazine: Recently, you have been appointed Chairman of Almaty Management University, Kazakhstan’s oldest private university? How will this experience impact the Tsinandali Festival’s education aspect?
Yerkin Tatishev: I am honored to assume the chairmanship of the Almaty Management University (AMU), one of the oldest institution of such kind in Kazakhstan. I will use this position to work closely with educational staff on helping the university enhance its academic programs, foster international collaborations and promote entrepreneurship among students. Of course, leveraging experiences between my two engagements will be beneficial to both. When it comes to Tsinandali’s educational aspect, we do look forward to expand the offering. We want to increase the number of education programs and initiatives that support young talent, and my experience with AMU’s students will give me valuable knowledge about what needs to be done to cater better to young generations.
Balkanist Magazine: What are your aspirations for the future of the Tsinandali Festival? Are there any specific developments or initiatives you are working towards?
Yerkin Tatishev: Kusto Group’s and my aspirations for the Tsinandali Festival are deeply rooted in its mission to promote cultural exchange and nurture artistic excellence. We are working towards expanding the festival’s reach by hosting more internationally renowned artists and orchestras, and we want the event to truly embrace its global vision. Additionally, we aim to enhance educational programs and initiatives that support emerging talents in Georgia and the region. We believe that by expanding the education programs we can greatly enhance the young generations to take interests in classical music and embrace themselves in the creative processes that can inspire them to achieve great success in all walks of life.
In the future, I see the festival further expanding its reach, inviting more diverse artists, and actively engaging in collaborations with cultural institutions worldwide. The Tsinandali Festival will continue to foster positive relationships, promote cross-cultural understanding, and serve as a testament to the unifying power of music. Together, we can continue to elevate the Tsinandali Festival and make it a central place for cultural exchange in the region.