“I stuck the alto violin on Sting’s shoulder” Yuri Bashmet, Vice President of the Russian Union of Rightholders (RUR) Council speaks on the mixing of genres in music

The 11th International Music Festival of Yuri Bashmet was held in Yaroslavl. This year, the maestro made a special emphasis on musical and literary compositions with the participation of Konstantin Khabensky, Evgeny Mironov and other talented artists. Vice-President of the Council of the Russian Union of Rightholders told the editorial board of the ‘Argumenty i Fakty’ newspaper about the work of young composers, the synthesis of genres, the best concert halls in the world, and much more.

AiF: Yuri Abramovich, your theatrical fellow artists say: They do not stage Ostrovsky and Chekhov out of a good life.  Like, everything that is written by modern playwrights is a game of giveaways with the audience. Is finding young composers a problem for you?

Yuri Bashmet: No. I believe that it is necessary to give the maximum opportunity for the creativity of the young, so that they have a goal, a perspective. That’s why at our festivals there are endless premieres of new works.

But, of course, we do not take people ‘from the street’. Like, hey boy, do you want to become a composer? Then come join us! No, I ask already eminent masters for their opinion on talented young people. And then we try.

– But are these castings always successful? Sitting one evening in the hall, I quietly resented: how long can I play out, will the concert ever begin? But it turned out that this is music as it is! And then you said to the author who had risen onto the stage: “So I want to ask what did you mean?”

– “I will tell you one story.” Once, while in Paris as a dissident, Rostropovich told me: “I follow everything, I know that you play a lot of Soviet music, this is wonderful. Play, play! Because other composers also listen to you, and this motivates them. I’ll tell you this: out of 10 works, at least three are very interesting, and sometimes a masterpiece can be born – this is how your Schnittke concert appeared. That is why, we must play everything.” And he is absolutely right.

You see, I didn’t just sit and think: “This is the strategy of my career – the works of the young.” Nothing of the sort! Just the repertoire for viola is small, unfortunately, – I mean small in the number of masterpieces. It is large, but few people know these names of authors of the time of Mozart.

Tikhon Nikolaevich Khrennikov. 1975. The era of Khrennikov. How the Head of the Composers Union managed to save the reputation of the USSR

So, I am in unrecoverable debt to Tikhon Nicolaevich Khrennikov, though he never wrote anything for viola, but the Composers Union established the “Moscow Autumn” Festival. Within its framework, Khrennikov made it possible for every member of the Composers Union to write music. And it was performed. At the Festival premieres were performed always. That’s why I started playing the music of such authors as Barkauskas, Kalistratov, Golovin, Sasha Tchaikovsky. Finally, the masterpieces of Gia Kancheli and, of course, Alfred Schnittke appeared. And what a concert Gubaidulina has! Knowing about my concerts, even Western authors began to write for viola. So Rostropovich was right – everything must be played.­

– This year the Program of the Festival includes many works based on masterpieces of world literature. A special delight of the audience caused your author version of “Eugene Onegin” in which reading Pushkin lines alternated with the best scenes from Tchaikovsky opera. Can such a synthesis of genres make opera clearer and more popular?

– Sure! I understand that opera connoisseurs can criticize me for the very idea of such a mixture. But we decided to show off a little. After all, it is interesting to take a different look at the classic work. Wonderful actors Konstantin Khabensky and Olga Litvinova read the brilliant text of Pushkin.

Let’s be honest: the one who comes to the opera house for the first time and listens to the opera “Eugene Onegin” – even with the most prominent vocalists – as a rule, understands the text a little because of the articulation of the singers. It is understood that the audience must know the plot: who loved whom, who killed whom. And if not?  Therefore, recitatives existed and exist now. The genius of recitatives is our Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, his recitations in all operas are in no way inferior to the arias in terms of music. Until recently, I myself not very clearly understood what was happening there in “Eugene Onegin”, unlike my father.

– What about your dad? He was also a musician?

– No, not a musician, but he knew the opera “Eugene Onegin” from the first to the last note, because at this performance he met a girl who became his wife and my mother. They had nowhere to go in Leningrad at the time when they were students – there were no disco clubs. And they went to “Eugene Onegin” dozens of times. And they both were in love with this masterpiece.

But it’s my dad. And if you ask the layman what is going on in “Eugene Onegin”, you can hear anything that you’ll fall off your chair. For example, that true love was just between Lensky and Olga, and Tatyana was just a minor character.

In fact, the interweaving of genres and styles is a very interesting thing. But everything should have a taste. I once participated in a concert at Carnegie Hall, where there were pop stars – Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton and others. We had a duet with Sting. I jokingly stuck my viola in his shoulder – like, ‘come on, try it!’  He excuses: “No, no, I’ve never played it!” But in the end he made some very decent sounds. Only later I learned that he used to be a jazz double bass player, that is, he knows how to play the bow on a string instrument.

– Yuri Abramovich, you are touring around the world.  Where are the best concert halls being built today?

– In our country, it is ‘Zaryadye’ Hall that impressed me. And abroad … One time, I thought that France had collapsed in this regard, and the French, meanwhile, have built a fabulous acoustic hall. In Japan, there are good halls everywhere. Even their worst hall is like our perfect one. They can have a box in the rice field, but everything sounds. However, the sound is a little glassy – they have their own opinion on the sound. It’s like the French instruments sound a little in the nose – something reminiscent of their pronunciation.