Instead of an interview
Giving interviews I often realize that a lot does not fit into an interview format and is left unsaid. Now I want to share with you my thoughts accumulated from the beginning of this year, which started with my personal subscription seasonal concert in Moscow and my USA Tour.
My seasonal subscription program which started 6 years ago, is my pride. I am proud of the program and of all musicians that have performed in it: conductors Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Valery Gergiev, Michail Pletnev, Yuri Temirkanov, Vladimir Spivakov, Semyon Bychkov, Yuri Simonov and their famous orchestras. We also introduced some young musicians, the participants of Crescendo festival.
During the 2012 season I have already played 2 concerts for season-ticket subscribers. In December there was the presentation of the ”Matsuev. Listz” album. In January, I performed a concert with Paavo Jarvi, the musician from middle generation of the Jarvi dynasty. We played Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Concerto – our forte. I play this concert in the original, longer version which is rarely performed. Paavo’s father – Neime Jarvi played the same concert with famous pianist Shura Cherkassky. At first, we played this concert with Paavo in Cincinnati, Ohio with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, then we performed in Paris with the Paris Orchestra and toured Spain with the Paris Orchestra as well.
My relationship with Tchaikovsky 2nd concert started in Perm where it was used to stage the ballet “Ballet Imperial” with Georges Balanchine’s choreography for Perm Ballet theatre. I remember how we performed: Orchestra in the pit, piano on the stalls and dancers on stage. Later I invited Ballet Imperial to Moscow and it was not long after that they received the Golden Mask award.
During my seasonal concert in January, Jarvi’s orchestra performed Beethoven’s 5th symphony. This symphony has been played many times and with many interpretations – so it’s always an enormous risk for musicians to perform. However, Jarvi dared, and it was a very great idea as his interpretation is unique. For 10 years Jarvi was a head of the Cincinnati Orchestra which he led to the level of major American orchestras before becoming a director of the Paris Orchestra.
My next subscription concert is scheduled for May. I will play chamber music with my friends: Alyona Bayeva, Boris Andrianov and the Borodin quartet. The Borodin quartet is one of the most famous quartets in the world. The quartet today has a new generation of musicians who fully preserve the brilliance of musical traditions and are still at the top of their artistry. In the first part of the concert I will play with Alyona Bayeva and Boris Andrianov, trios by Schostakovitch and Rachmaninov. The second part will be Bartok’s quintet with the Borodin quartet. This quintet was composed by Bartok in the early years of his career and shows the very unique language of the composer. We already played it a few times with different musicians during music festivals in Perm, Annecy and Verbier. In May we’ll present it for the first time with the Borodin quartet.
Unfortunately, chamber music concerts are not played very often on Russian stages. Of course, it is always great to play Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov but we will soon reach a dead-end if we keep playing only these. We must bring new concerts to the audience. One reason that I am proud of my personal subscription concerts is that we help the audiences to discover a new repertoire. Popular classics should be played along with other masterpieces.
So, after the concert where we played Tchaikovsky with Paavo Jarvi, I boarded a plane and started my USA Tour.
Concerts in the United States are an adventure into another civilization, into another culture. I admire Americans’ attitude to their orchestras and concert halls. The culture of sponsorship is very developed in America. Of course, there are tax benefits for corporations helping cultural institutions and there are things we need to learn from them. Every orchestra has a foundation which collects donations from supporters. On the last page of a concert program they list the names of donors, regardless of whether they gave 50 USD or, sometimes, a few millions.
The world financial crisis hit hard, and a lot of orchestras unfortunately went bankrupt. The previously mentioned Cincinnati Orchestra directed by Paavo Jarvi was on the edge of bankruptcy, but was saved by the grand-daughter of the founder of Procter&Gamble. She is 102 years old already and she’s brought in a wheel-chair to practically every concert. She is still in good shape, absolutely lucid, and she donated 94 million USD for an orchestra that she has been listening to and helping her whole life. Just imagine – 94 million USD! Being quite a sharp business lady she allocated every dollar to a specific purpose for many years ahead. It’s in American tradition to count every cent and she arranged for full and detailed control of the money.
I don’t know much about business and economics but I am sure that this is something worth imitating. In every interview I keep saying that the long and distinguished traditions of patronage have always existed in Russia, and private investments to culture are still needed now.
Not only the Cincinnati Orchestra, but the Orchestra of Philadelphia was also at the brink of disappearing. Luckily, it was saved as well. The financial crisis hit hard in all countries and, everywhere there were cuts in salaries, in artists’ fees, and the number of tours for orchestras. But nevertheless, top-orchestras and top-soloists are still touring because audiences cannot live without classical music. Music is the only distraction during the period of upheaval and financial crisis. I noticed that once the crisis began, people started coming to concerts more. Did they get more free time? And it happens not only in our country but everywhere. I am sure that it is not a coincidence. I keep my fingers crossed for everyone who lost their job and who is left in a state of uncertainty because of the crisis.
Getting back to my USA tour I should say that every concert in that country is a great pleasure. Almost every concert hall has very unique acoustics and history. The schedule of this tour was very hectic: long flights on the day of a concert, and departures the next morning… Many people ask why I need this crazy schedule. I answer: Because I still don’t know how to say “No”. I always try to come, in spite of a hard travel schedule, when I know that people want to hear me play, that they buy tickets and they wait for me. So far I have managed it. Every year I try to reduce the number of concerts, but I keep getting more!
My USA Tour was very productive, with a very tough schedule and a very warm reception in every sense. I went to Seattle, Los-Angeles, Detroit, and of course to New-York where I played in Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall is a sacred, historic point for every musician. P.I. Tchaikovsky played at the opening of Carnegie Hall, Rachmaninov performed there more than 200 times. Nearly every famous musician has had a concert at Carnegie Hall. This is a symbolic point in the carrier of every musician. But apart from symbolic value of this stage, the acoustics are simply amazing, impossible to describe. I was not yet recording my video blog during my trip to USA which I regret enormously. It would have been great to record its aura. Photos of Carnegie Hall can be seen here. Just try to imagine the energy of this hall: nearly 3000 seats, and at every corner you can hear every whisper, every sound, every note and every little nuance. It is almost impossible to describe the magnificence of every action on this sacred stage.
But of course this does not belittle the merits of all the other halls I played in – in LA, Seattle, and Ann-Arbour, the little town near Detroit. Ann Arbour is a home to one of the greatest American universities; some of the most prominent world musicians have performed in its concert hall and they are always hailed cordially. 3000 seats are always filled with an amazing and very experienced audience. It is interesting that all american halls look alike: a semicircular shape with a few amphitheaters and a balcony. This can be easily seen in the Carnegie Hall photos.
Performing in the US is always pleasant - there is a very relaxed atmosphere. And I mean relaxed in a good sense. Many people say that if an American paid for a ticket he wants to get everything for the price of it. One middle aged American lady approached maestro Temirkanov after a concert saying “Maestro, it was great! I like your show!”. The maestro replied “ I played Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, it was not a show” . But they just call things differently which does not mean that they are uneducated and just want to be entertained. They have maintained their culture, and the culture of going to classical music concerts in particular.
Of course the audience in every place is very different, with its own traditions and rules. A lot of Russians came to my concerts in LA and NY, which is understandable because there are more than a million of Russian-speakers in NY. It is always nice to meet the compatriots on CD signing sessions. I love this tradition, that in spite of the post-concert exhaustion, I go off-stage to sign CDs, to chat with people who just came out of the concert and bought my CD. Sometimes you can see things in their eyes that are impossible to feel during a concert. I appreciate the American public a lot but it’s a very special feeling when I see Russian faces after the concert. And if they happen to be from Siberia – it becomes a real gift for me. You all know that Siberia and Irkutsk mean a lot to me.
In every interview I keep saying that I play for every audience, regardless nationality, or financial or social standing: President, pope of Rome, doctor or engineer. I always work flat out. The audience’s opinion will always be my priority – as well as the opinion of people I trust: my family, Prof. Dorensky, my father and few more. Meeting the concert goers after the concert is a great idea that I have started implementing in Russia.
I should say that the classical music recording industry and its market are extinct, they don’t exist anymore. But recordings are the only thing that stays after the artist is gone. I am convinced that we still need to record CDs and in spite of rampant pirating and free Internet downloads. Artists that used to make their living selling records through recording companies are doomed. The only possible way for classical musicians to sell CDs is at concerts.
My US tour program was very interesting: Schubert, Beethoven and a rarely-played Sonata by Grieg which I carry as one of my childhood memories of Grieg’s music. On Youtube I watched a recording dated by the beginning of XX century of Grieg himself playing this Sonata. By listening just this one piece we can understand how great a pianist he was.
I regret deeply that Liszt didn’t live long enough to record his playing. That would be a sensation!
Of all musicians of the 20th century, the incredible Rachmaninov has a special place. I and Michail Pletnev discussed how we felt while recording Rachmaninov concertos (Pletnev recorded it 12 years ago, and I – 5 years ago). Michail said it very well “Each of Rachmaninov’s phrases makes you cry”. Immersion into Rachmaninov’s atmosphere is very special for any musician. The sound of his instrument is unique, and not only because of his piano… He was a genius as a musician, composer and conductor. At a late stage of his life he dreamed about conducting his own Symphonic dances but his American managers did not let him do it. The all-powerful concert-organizers did not need Rachmaninov- the conductor, but just Rachmaninov -the pianist, to sell tickets….
The word “sell” does not make a lot of sense for classical music. I also don’t like the meaning of “classical music promotion”. We should educate and enlighten more than promote. And these are totally different meanings.
I always read press reviews about my concerts. Some musicians say that they never read reviews but I’m sure the majority of us does, specially if they are published in Los-Angeles Times, New-York Times, BBC Music Magazine and some other English newspapers. These magazines still have a column for classical music reviews, where independent critics write only about what they hear and think. It means a lot. I live by these reviews and I am always looking for a something in them that can help me play better. Now I am learning a new piece (I will keep its name as a secret for a while) and I am not only listening to old recordings of it, but also reading reviews, and getting a lot of interesting information about it.
When by one crazy spurt I got back from NY to the Moscow Philharmonia I immediately went on the air with my video-blog. We played a concert in an amazing, friendly, family-like atmosphere, almost without a rehearsal. I was happy for philharmonics, for all musicians participating in this concert. The real philharmonic knowledgeable audience gathered there this night.
And now I am away recording a new CD! All details will be a secret for a while. See you soon!