Why "Chamber Orchestra Kremlin" and not "Kremlin Chamber Orchestra"?
"Kremlin Chamber Orchestra" would imply a connection with the Moscow Kremlin, which is not the case, although we have our annual "Christmas at the Kremlin" Festival there. The reason for incorporating the word "Kremlin" is a bit more involved. During the Soviet years, performing formations, which were allowed to travel abroad, or perhaps more accurately "sent" abroad, were treated by the government as "political weapons". A dreadful practice, of course, but there was one positive feature for Western impresarios and the public alike - only those of the highest professional order were considered for such trips. Then, in the mid-late '80s, Perestroika came, and with it the long-awaited freedom of travel abroad. In no time, fax machines of Western managements began cranking out the offers from countless Russian performing groups, the "ABC Symphony of Moscow" or the " XYZ Russian Chamber Orchestra", offering very attractive fees for concerts by orchestras which at times existed only on those very faxes, and then were hastily put together right before tour departure. Well, soon the West learned that Russia was the land not only of the Richters, the Oistrakhs and the Rostropoviches. When I decided to start a new orchestra, I did not want it to be mistaken with any others, so I was looking for a name which would not have "Moscow" or "Russian" in it, yet would clearly identify our origin. Looks like it worked.
Is there a difference between audiences in Moscow and abroad?
On the surface, there are quite a few differences. The initial greeting may be warmer or cooler. Starting a concert with a half-hour delay in Germany or Switzerland would shock an audience no less than starting at exactly the announced time in some parts of southern Europe. One should not become overly emotional after getting a standing ovation in Holland as it is simply a routine politeness there. In the Far East you may see concert-goers arriving with scores in hand to follow the performance. But such differences all become meaningless the moment a performance begins, for at this moment everyone becomes part of an entity called "the audience" and their experience is universal: some performances "hold" the audience; others do not.
How do you judge the success or failure of the concert?
The above-mentioned "holding the audience", for the lack of a better expression, is one of the major indicators. By today's standards, good intonation, ensemble, balance are a given. Finesse, virtuosity, colors separate "the men from the boys", but these are still just tools. The key is something else, and while we are yet to come up with a word to define it, everyone involved - musicians and audiences - always know when this indefinable "something" is happening.
Do conductors have big egos?
Comes with the territory. In front of the orchestra, the conductor is, perhaps, the last bastion of autocracy in our society - everything else, spare the army, is dominated by compromise. If you don't have an ego - by that I mean your conviction in not only the validity, but the supremacy of your musical vision - what right do you have to impose it on the musicians? If I am to have surgery, that is how I would want the surgeon to feel about his skills. Wouldn't you?
What is foremost in performance: transmission of the composer's intentions, or the performer's self-expression?
The two are inseparable. The composition is the foremost source of inspiration for the performer, but to say that there is only one way to perform a given work, exactly as the composer envisioned it, is to suggest that there is a rightful, "ideal" way to perform this composition, and someone knows what it is. Which, in turn, makes all other performances of this work "wrong", or at least not corresponding to the composer's intentions. Have you been to Moscow's McDonald's? The Big Mac here is exactly the same as in New York, Seoul or London, and this is the strength of that company. But do we really want music, or any other art form, to conform to a dogmatic standard, no matter how marvelous? Of course there are certain stylistic parameters - I purposely do not use the word "traditions" - for each composition, but without the stamp of the personality of the performer, it is just another Big Mac.
How does one reconcile the "binding" nature of a recording with the extemporaneous nature of performances and changing interpretations?
It is binding only if one looks at a recording as summarizing, all-encompassing. There is another way of looking at this marvelous device - as a representation of how the artist felt about a particular composition at the moment it was recorded. Both mediums - recordings and concerts - have their pluses and their limitations but, again, the "stamp of personality" is, in my opinion, of paramount importance. I am very grateful to Claves for giving us the opportunity to develop an interesting catalogue, which, I think, well reflects our artistic profile.
Do you prefer touring or staying in one place - Moscow or any other city - and working there?
There must be a balance, both are important. Touring is an excellent source of artistic stimulation - the challenge of facing new audiences and new halls, and the competition with the local, as well as touring, formations. Besides, of course, it helps in meeting our financial obligations, and brings exposure and recognition to the orchestra. There are also some pitfalls of touring - it can be quite demanding physically, the rehearsal time is limited, the repertoire is somewhat restricted. The biggest drawback of touring for me, however, is in the abrupt termination of the emotional bond with the audience which we strive to establish. And it is especially regretful after the concerts in which we really "connect". Much concert scheduling is done on two- or three-year cycles, and so, at best, we could meet again only after several years. Happily, there have been some exceptions, and I very much hope to have more of them.
Looking at your booklet, I counted 36 compositions performed on a single tour. Must be difficult to tour with such a large repertoire?
No, not really, quite the opposite. Some performers offer quite limited repertoire for a given tour, or even a season, and have well founded arguments in support of this practice. The others prefer varying programs from concert to concert, also with good arguments in favor of this method. As for myself, I am a strong proponent of the latter and that, as you noticed, is well reflected in our repertoire policy.
And what about musicians in your orchestra, it seems that such approach necessitates a lot of extra rehearsing?
We all share the benefit of not worrying that our performances run the risk of become routine repetition of "last night's gig". Not that this necessarily automatically applies to those, who go on 25-concert tour with two programs, but the risk is definitely there. There are three major areas in our rehearsal process: learning new compositions and performing them for the first time; general "maintenance" work - intonation, precision of ensemble, balance, articulation and other "kitchen" chores; and relearning, or at times just retouching for the upcoming performances works from the repertoire we accumulated in our 9 years. Of those three tasks, the first two are really time consuming and often very tedious, the third, as a rule, is easier and always very enjoyable. So for us touring with large repertoire is not a burden, but quite the opposite.
Any recipe on how to select a good program?
Well, since you said "recipe", let me answer gastronomically, as if selecting menu for a dinner party: Rather than thinking of each component separately, and then combining them into one evening, consider the event as a whole. A good start would be first to determine "the main entree", and then select the rest accordingly. Don't go over board with "everyone's favorite dishes" - if there are too many of them, they will just fight with each other, none leaving a memorable impression. Don't shy away from serving something new and unknown - as long as it is of good quality and well prepared. On a more serious note, this is a "Pandora's box" question, as there are very many items that should be taken into consideration. Aside from some generic rules, which would be relevant for any program in any hall, there are many factors, which apply specifically to the concert in question. What else is scheduled in this series in the current as well as a few past seasons? In other concert series in town? In nearby towns, and is there migration of the audiences from one to another? If not, could it be, and what could be a "hook" to get them to drive to your event? How much classical music is available on radio, and is there something in their selection of repertoire, which should be taken into consideration? Is thematic programming employed, and if not, should it be tried? And so on. In my view, apart from performances themselves, the program selection process is actually the most enjoyable part of work for both, performers and presenters.
You do a good number of transcriptions, both on recordings and in concerts. Transcribing, for instance, a string quartet for an orchestra, don't you lose the "intimacy" of the composition?
Well, first let's see if we can agree on this: intimacy or any other mood much less depends on the number of people expressing it, than the way it is expressed - an orchestra can transmit the utmost intimate emotions, and a single performer can project most violent force. To those who disagree with this statement, I suggest we take the position of "let's agree to disagree", but for the others, here is my answer to the question. No two performances can be identical, so in some ways, each performance is a transcription. Also, one could make a well-substantiated argument that the impact of a given piece of music often varies more from interpretation than from instrumentation. Transcriptions are a wonderful tool to enlarge the repertoire and indulge in performing some works which would be impossible to do otherwise. It is clear that some transcriptions work better than others (while some don't work at all). Some of the transcribed works become quite different compositions, others retain much of their original characteristics. A good number of transcriptions are performed much more often than their original versions - in the case of chamber orchestras, this would apply to the early Divertimenti by Mozart or the String Sonatas by Rossini (hardly ever heard in their original instrumentations). A number of very popular compositions were transcribed by the composers themselves, we even have a AZA?A?A?A?A ! A‡A A?A«A A¤A?A AA? A®A?A°A?A¤A?A«A?AA . of such works. There are many more. Chamber Symphony Op. 110 (Quartet No. 8) by Shostakovich and Souvenir de Florence by Tchaikovsky are now staples of the orchestral repertoire. Mahler "legitimized" performing Schubert's Death and the Maiden and Beethoven's Quartet Op. 95 by orchestral forces, Bernstein did the same for Beethoven's Op. 131 and Op. 135. Years ago the confrontation between "authentic" and "modern" practice in the performance of baroque and early classical music was nearly militant, but today it came to a quite peaceful coexistence, as we learned that what truly matters are not the tools, but the skill and the talent of practitioners. Superb music-making by the best performers on period instruments did indeed make many performances of this music on modern instruments sound dated, if not worse - and yet, some old recordings by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Virtuosi di Roma or I Musici in their prime years sound more authentic and vibrant today than many "authentic" groups can deliver. Many years ago, in the height of the "war", Charles Wadsworth, then head of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presented a concert, alternating the performances by "authentic" and "modern" orchestras on the same stage. I hope some day to find an adventurous presenter who would consider exploring the same concept with, for instance, string quartet and string orchestra, performing same the composition one after another.
Your favorite composer? Composition?
Well, it's a cliche, but I believe it is true for all performing musicians: the favorite work is the one I am conducting now. Thanks to some protective devices Mother Nature instilled in us, there is no inner resistance to such polygamy. It is really true. Otherwise, our life would be quite miserable, and, by extension, that of our audience: "Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks for taking two hours of your life and giving them to me and my orchestra. Now we shall perform for you a work which occupies the honorable 89th place in my list of favorite compositions".
How do you select the orchestra's repertoire?
This is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work, but quite impossible to describe. In short - for most part I program the works through which I can say something to my fellow musicians and then, together, to the audience.
Do you specialize in any period, school or composer?
If one needs to attach a label of specialization, in our case it should read as follows: "This orchestra specializes in not performing music of the baroque period". Indeed, we do very little of it. The nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century account for the majority of our repertoire, but we do, of course, the classical and contemporary works as well.
How much of new music do you perform?
If by "new" we are talking about recent compositions, then not too much, a few works a year. But when we do them, we do them well. We allocate a lot of time for very detailed preparation, and usually do the work in steps - rehearsing, putting them away, then coming back to them a bit later. There is also another type of "new" music - earlier written compositions which for one reason or another are heard very little, yet deserve it. We do a fair amount of such music - the wonderful works by Russian composers - Kalinnikov, Miaskovsky, Vainberg, Boris Tchaikovsky, and the Western ones, like the Danish romantic Niels Gade.
And what about minimalism and new age compositions?
Minimalism today, as serialism earlier and, actually, all the "isms" are just tools. In the hands of talented people these tools produce great results; in other cases, they do not. A friend once shared with me his reaction to a not-so-hot minimalist composition: "Czerny going crazy at the copy machine." So true at times, but then again, there are wonderful exceptions. As for "new age" - I hope I am not offending anyone, but it seems that often this music is not the messenger, but an ambience-creating tool, a sort of background music for meditation. Nothing against it, it is just not my cup of tea.
The musicians of the orchestra are all so young. Is there an age limit in your orchestra?
Not really if you mean physical age, but the spirit must be young.