Stravinsky's Dialogues: Pierre-Alain Monet & Azim Karimov
— First of all, I'd like to say thank you, Pierre, for being here today and allowing us to talk with you and discuss such interesting topics. Young conductors need to have such an opportunity. And, of course, thanks to the “Stravinsky’s dialogues” project! It’s a nice idea to make a bridge between two countries, which allows musicians to share their art, share their ideas and, of course, learn from each other.
I thought up what type of questions and topics we would discuss. And I have so many questions for you. But as we don't have a lot of time, and if I can suggest you, could we discuss problems that young conductors face, when they start working with modern or post-modern scores? And maybe, for our listeners, we can divide this topic into three parts — like three steps, which make up every conductors' work.
So, step number one — preliminary work. Sort of homework with a score, which is necessary for every conductor. Step number two — rehearsals and rehearsal process in general. And the final step — a concert. It would be the easiest way to start.
So, what could you advise young conductors, if they are taking a new score? And this score is without any references, without articles and known recordings, which is quite necessary for young musicians. What work plan would you advise such for a conductor?
— Well, I would say at first — it’s not only for young conductors, the process is the same for everyone. I think the most important thing is to be sure that you understand every line, every note, every sign in the score, and to see in advance which questions could come from the orchestra. It is the worst situation when you’re conducting the piece, and somebody asks something, and you cannot answer.
If you cannot answer because there’s no obvious answer to give — it’s ok. Maybe you have the composer in the hall, and musicians can ask him directly. But if it’s just because of you, because you haven’t spent enough time studying the score or you have pushed the problem aside, this could bring a complicated situation during the rehearsal.
And I would say, 80 percent of work consists of preparing the score at home and, if it's possible, with a composer. It's always better if you have the link to the composer and he or she is able to answer every question and master every situation.
Well, I'm not young anymore. But I can remember the time when I wasn't taught enough on these questions, and I was postponing problems. I thought: “Maybe it will not happen, maybe they will pay no attention to this situation or to this sign”. And I regretted it every time.
— If we try to compare our preliminary work with a modern score to a classical music score, which is the most important difference? For example, we are preparing a premiere, and the problem is the absence of recordings, articles, so we can stay in touch with a composer [and ask him or her]. What do you feel about asking a composer not only about a basic craft or technology but about a hidden program or a hidden sense of this music, a hidden soul? Is it OK or sometimes it would be better not to ask such questions and keep ourselves bordered with only basic and technology questions?
— I let the person talk as much as possible, I just let it flow, and then I can pick up what I need from this conversation. And everyone is different: some of them are very shy and don’t intend to explicit too much from the score, they let you decide which way is the right way. And some other ones are so clear-minded and want one precise way. And in both situations, you interpret a piece, the music goes through your sensitivity, and musician's [sensivity] in the orchestra… There’s no chance that a piece comes out exactly as the composer imagine it, and some of them can accept this situation and some others can't. I can manage the process with both situations actually, but I do like to speak with a composer, and it’s not only about the technical aspect. Sometimes — yes, but not always.
I don’t want to underestimate some composers, but some of them do have not a quite clear idea of what they want to hear. They put an idea on the paper and at best they know exactly how an orchestra sounds. But not everyone — young composers sometimes have to make an experience with a text they write and you have to leave them on the one way. The composition is possible to render. I remember a situation — I got the score with no bar lines for 18 players, but no lesson, no.. nothing! And I told [the composer]: “How can you imagine we can rehearse this piece and give it in concert? And you’re quite surprised about the question and I told you — I’m sure music is fine, but if you agree or not, I will put bar lines here and there, according to the sequence (it was quite obvious, where you have to write 2\4 or 3\8)”. But at least we could rehearse the piece, give concerts! But his reaction after the concert was quite surprising for me: “You are so squared in mind!”.
— How can we rehearse without bar lines or bars?
— Well... He didn’t have much experience with orchestra, he’s also an organist — we all know that organists play very comfortably for themselves, it’s no problem to start anywhere.
— I think we should be a bit more careful with composers, especially with young ones because their answers sometimes could be not very helpful. And it can bring some "step aside" thoughts. So if I understood you correctly, you find it possible to kindly ask composers to change something in the score to make rehearsing process and performing a bit easier?
— We did it with Musikkollegium Winterthur, it’s a classic orchestra which bases near Zürich, and they organize a composer competition. We got many scores and from the best ten, one has been played and recorded by the orchestra. I shared this job with Thomas Zehetmair, a famous violin player. He was a chief conductor there. He let me the five most complicated pieces to conduct! I was quite glad, but I had to stay in very close contact with all composers. For many reasons. One reason — there were many mistakes in the parts. It is also very important: I, with a proper first audition, always compare the score to parts. Especially if they are computer written, anything could happen and it happens! Well, it’s very helpful — the first step I learn the score, I check every note and in this way, I win so much time for the rehearsal. I can remember the score in which I fond find more than 200 mistakes. Can you imagine: you have two rehearsals or one and a half to get the score and it was just impossible. And in another case, writing way of writing a piece, but not always very accurate for some instruments, and I could ask the composer to change little things, not in the character, but details, which allows accomplishing the genre.
— So like timing, measures, something that could have…
Yes, all those signs, "one" , or the reference, you know, just to have…
— Like a map!
— Exactly, thank you!
— Yes, I faced such a situation twice, when I had to ask a young composer to come and visit me [for discussing his score]. We had two beautiful evenings discussing his piece, and suddenly at the end of the second evening he told me “Okay, now I understand [what to do], let me recheck my score”. And the next week he sent me a new score — with new bar lines, new measures, and I found it interesting. But I might say that it became much easier for me to show musicians what time [they should play. It became] more helpful and precise in our manual system maybe.
Valerio Rossi «ICE_one_h for chamber orchestra» – Rychenberg Competition
— So I have one more general question about the preliminary work with a score. How do you think is it possible for conductors to be prepared for the first rehearsal [of a contemporary music score] as well as we usually prepared with the classical repertoire score? Could you please advise, how to imagine sound of the scorein our heads, if it’s written with, you know, with quite unusual notation or a modern technique? How [can we] try to hear it inside, if we haven’t met such a technique before?
— If I can't imagine the sound it [means that this sound] is something very special and totally new, and in this case sometimes I ask a composer about a sample. It happened [for example] with a very special notation for a cello. I confessed and he asked a colleague of his to record the passage on the video and also the way of doing it. So I could pass spot the video to the musician. And I spent a lot of time that people who had to play this got more confidence, and in this situation, I could make the work much faster and easier. Otherwise, it's exactly the question if you, as a conductor, if don't know the answer — there's no reason for people to trust you anymore. Actually, just each of you destroys the work of the other one. Another situation when I think I have the music quite clear in mind but I can be wrong in this case. The best way is not to confess to the whole orchestra that you hear this passage in the wrong way. But it's also can be an occasion to try a few [other] ways [of play] and if the composer is in the hall, it could be the right time to give this person the word to explain the way of doing it.
— And what can we do if we work on a premiere of the piece and we don't have an opportunity to communicate with the composer?
— I would say — trust yourself and trust the orchestra. I think this is the best way to make the whole process rise. If the conductor is doubting and the rise is going down, there's no chance to premiere the piece in a positive way. But you're right, sometimes there's no accurate solution, just have a panel of situation, of solution. Than at the last moment try to pick the right one to succeed.
— I had an experience, by the way, when a student of the Conservatory on the next day after I received the score, sent me the midi file. And I was shocked because that gave me a mess in my head about how it should sound. What do you think about it, what would you advise for conductors or for composers? Is it a good idea to send a midi file?
— Midi is the worst thing to do by the composer [for conductor], I think! If you want to have a sound file that fits really the score, it takes days or weeks or maybe years. I mean the minifies from Sibelius or from Finale cannot render proper sound, no way. Maybe in Hollywood, they have such programs, but… And I would say as a conductor, it doesn't help. I think we are smart enough to have a key idea of all the music through reading [a score]. This is a mental process as you learn an instrument, you learn also this situation and maybe you can [be] more or less exact. It takes more time, but the midi file gives you an impression that everything is easy and while the computer has no problem connecting every part with the other and the fast passages are very easy… It is a cheat also for the composer. Composer means everything it should sound from the orchestra exactly like a midi file and as a result — nobody is quite happy with the situation.
— I think it turns off our sensations, feelings about this music. Especially when it's quite cheap, this [kind of] sound closes our inspiration.
Exactly! Exactly! It is the same as you eat in Mcdonald's or in a gastronomy or restaurant. You know what I mean! If any young person is listening to us anytime just forget midi files and trust the conductor, trust the musicians. They certainly know better than a computer [how] to render the music.
— And if you listen to us, please don't forget to be open to us, we are trying to do our best and being very helpful for you! …
— I remember a Belgian composer maybe you know him — Pierre Bartholomée. He was also a chief conductor of the liege philharmonic royal philharmonic for a long time — we did a chamber opera, very nice music, and after the premiere he told me: “Well, you went much further then I thought, anyway I'm glad”. But he was kind enough to respect the way I got his music! Maybe it was not exactly the character or some passages, but he respected that because he knew I had some great respect for his music, and there's no computer. A computer can render the piece with much more accuracy in compare the text, but we are just living personally.
— I have some other questions about this topic. It's quite obvious that the scored notes don't give us 100 percent of the ideas that the composer, he or she, has put into this score. It's like paper and some scratches on it without any colors, without any deep ideas, and we have to find them. Are you agree with the thought that conductors are not only the lawyers of composers — in front of the public or front of an orchestra, but we are some kind of “extra composers” as well, co-authors, and sometimes we have to find something between these notes. And this is our role. What do you think about it?
— I think every situation could be different. I would say but it's [right] only for myself. I try to stay open in front of every new score I get. I can get from the score a new experience every time. And I try not to do perform it with “old tubes” if you know what I mean, and it's just a new trick. It is a very precious and rare situation to perform a piece for the first time, it is a responsibility. If you ruin the performance... it can be the first, the only, and last chance for this piece to be performed!
— Yeah! Great responsibility!
— But anyway [it happens] even for great famous composers, the piece performs just once or twice and that’s all. In work with this responsibility [a premiere performing], I always try to put myself in the second role. And if it doesn't work, it can mean that the piece is a little bit weak — it can happen. In this situation I allow me to give a little bit more of myself in the process. But principally every situation is new and I try to be on the second one.
— Fair enough! But yeah, that's a great idea. And I tried to explain that being a lawyer for a composer in front of the public, in front of the orchestra, in front of any other musicians, is a good and interesting role and very tricky!
La Lumière Antigone EXTRAITS
Pierre Bartholomée. La Lumière Antigone
— I had my significant experience as a composer. I didn't compose much but there was a commission from a string orchestra. And they had no idea and no fun to do it really. The situation was that the conductor tried to become the chief conduct of this orchestra and he applied for this job. For him the great chance was to perform the Mozart Overture and then the Beethoven Symphony and it trying to rehearse my piece was just a lost time. The performance was just a nightmare. It had been just before I started to conduct modern music. So then I've stopped with composing and with the challenge for myself not to copy this situation. If you sit in the hall, you listen to a piece and you feel the audience is losing patience, this is not a good experience. I think no composer deserves such an experience actually.
— Yeah, sure, that is totally understandable. For these preliminary periods — you said about the samples that composer can give us to show how it should sound, like preface and like a list of techniques, how it should be done. But what do you think, stepping aside, what do you think about classical repertoire? Is it a good idea, especially for young conductors, for student conductors, to use recordings to accelerate analyzing the score? I think it's a good idea to study score with listening lots of recordings.
— I think you have already answered that! I do it sometimes, but not in the way to learn the score or just to take ideas. I mean if Nikolaus Harnoncourt does this rallentando it will be a success also for me if I copy it! So many tell us such situations where these conductors just pick up ideas and at the end, you have a copy and paste from a recording you can buy. Quite it's everyone's stuff to do this way or not — I don't criticize, but I would say there are so many arts in the famous compositions from the classical or romantic repertoire, there are so many arts in it, why should we try to format, to make a frame. But that fits everything!
— I understand you, yeah!
— If you decide to be a classical player or conductor, it means you love this art and what this art deserves also — positive people which are dedicated to it to, just so, and the the copy and paste effect doesn't…I meant, it could make the learning process faster, you win time, it's just a few passages you have it in mind fast, but then this process should be affected a long time before you really start with studying the score. At the end effect is you have l already all interpretation in mind and if you would listen again the passage or the CDs you wouldn't recognize really the piece, the interpretation, because the process is in mind. I would say if you want to learn repertoire better, piece by the recording, why not, but then try to forget it and start new with the score, there's no music in my head. Another point, a positive thing by listing the recording of other great conductors or orchestra is to check where the difficulties could be, just have to spot a few places and, well, I should be very prudent on this passage with tempo or very accurate on trying the intonation and learn from the mistakes of other people, why not and get a better option of the score. It could be a win.
—That is indeed a very interesting question and, to be honest, I don't have a solid answer for myself and I don't know what could be more helpful. But for sure I'm not criticizing the idea of first listening to some recordings, because, for sure, it could help. Especially it could be helpful for students, not only to study but to feel the style and to turn on the system of choice and the mechanisms which could be helpful in future to save the score in your head. Just to remember how an orchestra could sound because before we meet orchestra in real life, there is a long period when we trying to imagine the orchestra in our head. So [in this case] recordings could be very helpful. And for sure I totally agree with you that then just in a moment you have to cut yourself from these recordings to build yourown idea and only after it could be very helpful to listen to recordings again, trying to find this, as you said, these weak spots, these blind spots, where a problem could be.
— Not the danger of listening to recording too closely just before conducting it is... On the CD the whole orchestra is well mixed and if you're standing before the orchestra, what would you hear? Because you have the first violin there are very powerful, less powerful second violins… Maybe you can barely hear a double bass and bassoon disappear. Suddenly you stand in front of someone and you're lost because you don't recognize [it] at all, the end product you have in mind and you can be very distressed from this situation!
— Yeah, it's very shocking for the first time. The idea is quite old: from the very first steps we're making in our profession it's much better to visit other conductors rehearsals, to sit there, to sit in the orchestra, it’s much more helpful and it's preparing yourself with this massive cloud of sounds you can face staying in front of an orchestra.
So after this first step, preliminary work with the score, finally we face rehearsals. Let's speak more about not the specific contemporary orchestras or contemporary music — it's much easier to communicate with them. Sometimes they are more prepared than we think. It could bring some shock as well, but it's more interesting, I think, to discuss how to work with, as you said, with an all-rounded orchestra, which plays 90 percent classical repertoire and then suddenly meets us with contemporary music score. What is your plan for the first rehearsal and then the second? What would you advise?
— Could I ask what is your way of doing it?
— To be honest, I'm not sure that I have an as great experience as you and as my other colleagues. In the last two seasons, I worked with Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, it's quite a repertoire orchestra. I cannot say that we play a lot of postmodern music, but of course, I faced some situations and I found something for myself.
For the first day, it's possible to try to help [to musicians] and explain all the lines, the technology stuff, the very basic craft of conducting. And it's a great opportunity if we have a composer at our first rehearsal, that could help us to explain these sounds more than we can do it. I prefer to ask composers to visit the first rehearsal but then stop visiting any rehearsals to allow us to bring our own inspiration to this music, our taste to this music. It's a much more intimate process!
And the second thing after we solved these basic technical problems. I think it can be a good idea to give a musicians an image, colors, some taste even, like in program music. Because this kind of music [contemporary] could be boring and imperative — especially in working with a not contemporary orchestra, with the classic one. But only when [we say about], how [it should be], without why. It's better to answer why we're doing this. What do you think?
— You're right. It is very important to include the performers in the learning process. If you let a register group aside and unoccupied for some time, it could be quite dangerous — you lose the flow. It's very important that the rehearsal flows.
I just made such an experiment. Instead of rehearsing some passages with the woodwinds or the second violins, I just let register play this passage to show how it sounds from this corner or from that corner. Actually, we rehearse a passage, but psychologically they show the other colleagues what they have to do and at the end, everybody gets this impression that the whole orchestra is “let these grow” instead of rehearsing pieces. It [the method of rehearsal] has the advantages — we can solve some problems faster. If one special way of playing comes, they can copy it and get the way of doing it very quickly. And it allows you not to repeat twice or a third time the same thing! And I was quite surprised! I almost always spent less time rehearsal than it was scheduled, because of this way of doing the whole process. Instead of the two and a half hours rehearsal, we did the job in one or one and a half. And if the piece works, why should we spend more time on it? And it has not to be a wonder, it doesn't work with every situation or with every orchestra. And certainly, I can imagine an orchestra in Finland doesn't react the same way as one in South Italy, for example. But it is worth trying to do this way of rehearsing. I tried that and it works in 90 percent [cases].
— So you mean it's not good to rehearse too much, so it's always better to find this perfect moment to stop rehearsing? Did I get you?
— Maybe yes, you're right! I meant the goal is not to go to this point where everybody is fed up with rehearsing the piece. If you see that musicians feel boring, try another way to get the people close to the music. It could be a joke, could be, as you said, an image. And what is very important is to put an image on a passage or ask people to put their image. Maybe 90 percent of people won't do that, but if you have just a few ones from the orchestra with you in this situation, it will help. I never had a situation where I was totally distressed. [With me] it never happened, but it could be. You never know who are the people in front of you. I was rehearsing in Bulgaria. I think it was “La Mer” Debussy, and suddenly during the break the English horn player comes to me and [said]: "You know, you're doing well, but this passage I cannot... I can't play it so fast". And I found it very touching that this guy came to me and explained. It was no problem for me to present another way of playing this passage. So he had the feeling, he still belongs to the orchestra, he's not put aside. In modern music sometimes the passages, you know that is so difficult, it's almost unplayable. You have to find a way [of doing it]. And more or some musicians like to be released from this pressure of succeeding at any cost. If you can say, well, just don't exaggerate this passage, maybe it is not in the first row, and then at least they will play very beautifully. I also remember the situation with a student's orchestra and the oboe player, she never succeeded in a passage never never never never [on the rehearsals], but she just relaxed, relaxed, and enjoy the concert! It’s just a brilliant, miracle! I didn't make pressure on her.
— Yeah, sure, but we [conductor and orchestra] are one team, though the conductor's not playing an instrument. You know, someone from an audience asks about our profession. What is it? What are we doing? What are we doing! And mostly the public thinks that we play an instrument, and our instrument is an orchestra. Honestly, it's not close to my point of view at all. I think we just try to be helpful and maybe to inspire them [musicians] for something, but not to play "on them".
Orchestra musicians can play music much more interesting than we [conductors] can. I'm an oboe player, I was an oboe player and for some years, I tried to play oboe and study to conduct. And then I decided to finish my oboe studying because I found out that I cannot play as well as I ask orchestra musicians to play. So it's a very strange feeling.
So as I understood, you agree with me that inspiring musicians by suggesting some music programs, some images, even if these images are not discussed with the composer, is still a great idea?
—It helps in any case, yes! Anyway, the image you try to put by can be also interpreted in another way in the mind of your musicians. But you will never know exactly what is their own representation of your example. But everybody is included in this process, and it helps! I think if you let anybody [stay] aside, well, you lost the war!
— And what about composers? Earlier I said that it's great to have a composer at the beginning to help us understand some[thing], to inspire musicians. For example, a composer can say about an idea of this music, a technology, advise something. But do you agree that in one moment we need to kindly ask a composer not to visit our rehearsals? When we try to find our feeling of this music, speak with musicians, discuss it — these quite intimate processes of finding images, colors. And would it be better to do it without a composer, then show to him or her our final product?
— I'm just laughing because I have some situations in mind! I agree with you. I do like when composers are [on rehearsals] from the very beginning. I also know composers that don't like being in the first rehearsal at all because the first reading is too far away from the text, it is very disturbing. And, you know, [there are] composers that try to be active every minute so there are so long try to shout from the hall! But maybe, again, what we can advise to young conductors or very young conductors — to discuss this situation with a composer first, put frames to the intervention of a composer during the rehearsal because it can be very disturbing also for musicians. You don't see a composer, because he is behind your back, but they do. It doesn't help, but every composer is another person. Put frames and discuss it. What I like more is when a composer informs me and musicians at the same time or [to] musicians first — about any changes, for example, and I didn't get it!
— That's awful! I'm sorry to [interrupt] when you have a break, I experienced it once and then I was so shocked because they just changed the score they just cut a few bars, and then I had to start to rehearsal from the beginning!
— It is the worst thing to do! Composers have to learn to trust the performers. It is also a part of the process. If they don't [trust], the final result will be not satisfying for composers and players, there's no chance.
—Then the next day we are having a concert, finally! How can you explain the real difference between conducting a classical repertoire score and contemporary music or just making a premiere of a new piece? What is the difference in our craft during the concert?
— When I perform modern music I really try to do exactly what I did on rehearsals or the main rehearsal. I try not to change any situation, because [in] many-many situations music is quite difficult to play. Everybody needs a clear line so if you diverge from it, you might feel very well with you're trying to determine something, but it will not help exactly the situation. To be creative during a Haydn symphony, you can try to give a new impulse or two to follow a new idea from the orchestra. This is also very interesting to be having contact or to allow a new situation — if music is so well known it cannot happen anything. On the contrary, maybe performers feel very confident, you pay very much respect to them, you trust them and then there's a new form, a new life in it. But for modern music, I would stay very squared. And maybe for another time try to guess, but it is.. you're rewarding the work during the rehearsal if you do it in the same way during the concert, I think.
—I agree with you. We should say that unfortunately there is a difference between conducting a classical repertoire and a modern score, even in our basic craft, because we have to be more precise, more correct, and more square minded maybe, just not to ruin these notes, to make it safer, because usually, as I think, our freedom during the concert is based on an orchestra's knowledge of music. So when an orchestra knows a piece they usually are hungry enough to receive some new vibes from you, some new sensations, some new ideas, but here they only need your guidance, your help, just being precise and being quite correct in timing.
— For example, changing tempo — can be totally destructive, if the passage is very at the edge in some tempo and if you forget yourself and push them. The whole piece can be ruined and then you will have angry musicians after and knocking at the door after rehearsal.
— It's quite a usual situation in post-modern music when we face not strictly organized notes — three lines, for example. You should use enough energy and focus on listening to all these lines and be helpful. In this case, every performance is a new performance. Do you understand what type of music I mean? It's like aleatoric, it's very free and every rehearsal, every concert is totally new, because it's freer [than previous].
— And on the other hand — to be too precise in a desire to help it's also not very helpful for anybody. Just to be clear with the plan — it is one thing, but to lead a sound, to lead a passage, and to sustain the whole… I mean, always still these three components of leading, showing where and what to play, and balancing between them — all are quite uneasy. And every situation is different. It happens that people can tell me: “We know the passage, this is not such a problem, maybe [you can] be more discreet, it helps more than big gestures”. Sometimes it irritates, when I look at a conductor specializing in modern music, and he makes big gestures, just mean one two three, one two three. Everybody attended school and can count one to three — it is not helpful. Why do you do it so clearly? But, you’re right, the frontier is not always very definite.
— So as we said before, it's a great responsibility to conduct a premier, because we give life to this score and it's a bit scary because we give to the public, musicians, conductors, to next generation of musicians some reference of this music. How they will feel this music when they listen to it — we are very responsible for it because for sure the first thing they [musicians or conductors] will do, when they will open a score is try to find the recording. And they will face our recording with all our problems! It's quite hard! So do you always agree, when you are asked to record the first performance of any piece? Is it a good point for you or do you prefer not to make a recording of the first performance?
— No, no, I like it very much! This is a testimony, a reward for a composer at first, and very precious documents. I had a case, now I don't remember which was a piece, but it was for the soloist, a singer, and so on. I had to tell that there was the wrong rhythm and wrong notes. And then the singer told me: “Yes, on the recording they did it in that way”. Well, you can never know if a composer changed some of the passages, but maybe not! Just the sound engineer didn't even notice that and let it through, and maybe the composer didn't notice that. It also could be! But this is exactly an interesting point of playing again a piece, which has been premiered a few years or months ago. I liked very much to give a new life to an old piece from the modern repertoire. Well, some composers I play very often. Tarnopolski is such a great composer! And I know he was involved in one of the projects which I participated. And then after my performing, I discovered an older recording and it was a totally new world, another world because the performers were quite different. Maybe because of the professional orchestra — I lead with the students, and it's very fascinating that when a piece from the modern repertoire spread from many conversations. It just shows how living modern music is, exactly as much as living as the pieces from the great masters.
— I meant that nowadays there are so many cameras and every concert can be recorded. It's quite scary because unfortunately, not every performance is as good as we wanted to. The elder conductors, the godfathers of conducting, had recordings, and it was like, you know, like a statue — very solid work! But nowadays we can find, even on youtube, some strange fragments from any concert. You're not always sure, that you froze the ideal interpretation you wanted to show because the concert could be wrong, maybe this conductor felt not very good, and now suddenly this recording is on YouTube. How to deal with such a problem?
— I have no accurate answer because I asked myself this exactly the same and I couldn't answer. One has to stay close to your own ideas and own way of doing. Well, it's difficult, it's a very difficult question you're asking!
— I will try to divide this question into different ones! So the first one. Do you feel a bit afraid that after your concert, for example, on YouTube or other social media, will be a big layer of non-professional recordings? It will be there forever and will connect to your name. And the second question is — do you listen to your own recordings, even non-professional, or have you ever faced, that some of your friends, sent you a link to some recordings with you and you had no idea that this recording even exists?
— It never happened to me. Anyway, when I was the chief conductor of the orchestra which is dedicated to modern music, we had almost every concert was recorded by the official broadcast. It means the first good quality and, well, we never had a bad recording, it is a kind of guarantee of quality. Maybe also archive recording, but recording from a professional tone engineer. And the first filter is the management of the orchestra decided to let this recording through or not. Well, they always let it through. Or maybe for, you know, youtube then some of the boards of the orchestra that has something to say… submitted first. Now I never had this situation of an unprofessional recording sent on the channel without my knowledge. I'm glad about that because you're right it could be some bad experience. And about listening to my own recordings — sometimes, but it never was the whole piece. For the simple reason: there's always a passage, where you are not very satisfied with it, so you would prefer it would never happen, even if only you noticed it, but yeah.
Choosing your recordings, it is quite important to be very focused and listen carefully. It happens that the sound engineer comes in very close contact with the piece of modern music, or cannot read exactly the passages it can be. I have a few recordings at home on CD where obviously nobody noticed the big mistakes. And it was quite a pity — especially for the composer.
— As you said, such recordings are one of the greatest rewards for composers. I have a few general questions if you have some more time. So the first could be quite simple. How do you think should we teach in our schools, Hochschule or Conservatory, the different strategies of working with contemporary music? Should not only classic repertoire making plans or strategies how to how to work, but some extra or obligatory courses about contemporary music be in our Hochschule?
— Maybe I dream about it, but I wouldn't say, in a way make difference. You know, it happens sometimes, but technically it's quite different, and young conductors had to be very aware of that. You cannot, I cannot conduct and have the same gesture if I perform a modern symphony or piece by Boulez — it doesn't work! But it doesn't mean that I'm another person [when I conduct different music]. Young conductors sometimes, I mean very young ones, are looking for their personality, they want to be someone and to please an agent or to be in the frame and to follow [theirown] straightway. It happens sometimes I think, then a few of them cannot really make the difference — as you said before, they don't know why they stand before these people, what is it their position...
The mental process is the first and particularly for modern music. The teachers should also consider it as exactly as important as the classical repertoire.
I think it's quite difficult to explain, just because this is our nowadays world. [In this world it would be better] to come infront as soon as possible, as young as possible, if you're a very young conductor, you have much more possibility of success than if you're an older one trying to do the job as well as possible. And modern music doesn't help at all for a carrier, that is the point! And I can understand teachers, who wanted to push their pupils to the front and to success in its usual way, but I would be so glad if they could give so much importance and a close focus on modern repertoire.
— Then, honestly, I have one very hard question, and it's quite hard for me as well. Do you feel that modern society is losing listeners? Even the audience of classical repertoire! So, if I make a comparison, nowadays our art, our craft, is in the state of the sunrise, dawn, midday, or twilight?
— Maybe I can answer you with the situation I know better — here in Switzerland. We always describe the audience in general as old people with gray hair. And I’ve heard it for such a long time because 40 years ago it was exactly the same pattern. Maybe in our society here [in Switzerland], where people are so busy [they] just forget about art and come to it later when life becomes a little bit quieter.
It's quite different in Germany. The audience here sometimes consists of very young people, students, and not only music students. But generally, and also for modern music, it's quite an exciting audience.
Well, the situation is different in different countries. I would say I don't want to stigmatize any country, I mean, everybody who comes is welcome and is to be taken seriously.
It's our job to perform music for any audience, for any people who come. And I think, instead of crying and mourning about the audience which are less and less in concert halls, we should just say «thank you» to people who still like classical music, like the music that we do. This is the point.
Another point is about management. Maybe, our music is not quite well served by the concert managers, orchestra managers or agency. All these people put our concert in a frame, trying only “selling, selling, selling it!”. And I think it can be very-very destructive. I know, if I say it, I will not find an agent. But this is a lively art, very wide open, with many styles, while they [managers] want to restrict it to show a very small portion of it.
— Yeah! So, on the one hand we still have a quite elite group of public, of audience, like Schönberg said that he would be not satisfied if the common listener understood his music.
And on the other hand, I feel that there are more and more rules of marketing which are coming to our art, and especially if we talk about modern music, real modern music, not Bartok or Stravinsky. How can we be helpful in that case? Do you think that the idea of including into the regular classic program some modern piece is one of the last chances to educate, to open this music to regular public?
— Definitely not! If I see a program, where the classical overture or [something like that] is [side by side] with the modern piece, and then the nice concerto, and then the nice symphony, I can only say that the modern pieces will be lost. It doesn't work. If you integrate a modern piece in the conventional program, you have to focus very-very closely to this modern piece to make it effective to the audience. Otherwise they will just tolerate it for 10 minutes, maybe 12. And they will get a little bit nervous if it goes longer than 15 minutes. It doesn’t help for wider acceptance for any modern music.
On the other hand,when a famous soloist decides to perform a concert including modern [music], then the impact on the audience is much-much-much bigger and much more effective. Imagine, any famous soloist coming with the Violin Concerto by Gubaidulina shows very closely how [he/she is] convinced about the quality of the piece, this is the point! The audience just has to capture this image of convinced people and maybe it is also our duty to be convincing enough, if we have to perform modern pieces in the convention program, not just to let it through.
When such a program STARTS with a premiere of a modern piece, it’s awful! How can you shock the audience that comes anyway for the Beethoven symphony, just start with a strange sound and then the time is over.
The marketing people, who do that, are just digging our own grave, this is very destructive. And there's so many other ways to present different music, let's say the classical one to an audience for whom it is their first attempt at listening to classical music. But it’s maybe a very focused meaning, this is too accurate, but that's what I experienced in these years.
— So am I right, we feel the same stuff, that, unfortunately, means that we are quite close to the line when we start to lose an audience. Each season is harder and harder because, on the one hand, we have to make programs, which should be much easier to sell, so it's not even talking about modern pieces, but about classical as well. It's quite a general problem! And on the other hand, there is still, like always was and I hope like always will be, there is still a very elite group, so it's like elite art for an elite group. I don't like to say this, but finally, we're facing that, if we are not, how you said, it's not a good idea to integrate modern piece in the classical repertoire, into the classical program, then the other way is only making festivals of modern music or just modern music concert, which is quite hard to make for the whole public.
So again, we will meet the same beautiful faces, the same beautiful eyes in our public, which would like to listen to this music, even if it's integrated into the whole concert, I mean the usual program. So how to break this wall, how to try to show that we have to stop calling modern music everything that was written in the 20th century, since the end of 19th century, that should be more accurate, how to deal with it?
— At first, the problem is also between classical composers, the well-known ones, and the less known ones. If you program, for example, contemporary of Beethoven, he wrote fine symphonies, not quite so great as Beethoven. There's a strong value to this music, and it will prevent a certain audience to come to the concert. Or if you program Biber instead of Bach — it was exactly the same process. And then, I would say, I conducted two programs streaming, and the [organization] sold more tickets for these continued streaming than in a usual concert in the hall. That means, the audience could be much closer to the performance and to have a much stronger feeling of the performance, as if they would sit beside the solo oboe, you know, a kind of a new experience of listening to a classical concert! And maybe the only positive result of this COVID crisis, and in this way, we could win a new audience and show much more, what an orchestra is! And then, now, if the situation comes normally again if anybody had a solution for winning a new audience, a new people, young people, to the concert hall… It could win the Nobel prize! But I would say, it could be a very long process, but rewards, at first rewards and says thank you to the people, who come, who are still coming, maybe this is the first step. And then these people can gain for us a new audience.
— New wave of audience!
— Yes! Let's just they say around, how nice is this and how welcome they are in a concert hall, and at the end, people come not only for the music, they come to speak to each other, to a little chat or to show themselves. Music doesn't come in the first row, not always, and we have to manage these many factories, these components, and try to make a good sausage from this. But definitely, if the concert manager is going on with this selling a product exactly as you say — you want to sell a car or petrol or gas, if you know what I mean, — this is no way!
—I had a quite strange experience when I just graduated from Moscow Conservatory. I studied with Gennady Rozhdestvensky and about one year after my graduation I was invited to become a chef conductor to the Moscow State Chamber Orchestra. That was a quite strange idea — I'm not well experienced now, and at that time I was musical immature as a teenager and a very young musician. But in an instant, I started to have this power and opportunity to make music. But we had a big problem with selling tickets and that we didn't have the public at all, it was about 30 persons [in the hall]. I know that was a chamber hall, but still! So they invited me and told, that I can do whatever I want. Could you imagine that? But for a musical teenager, it was a very scary invitation. I tried to find [a new way to program concerts and did] a very strange thing. I started to explain music before the concert. I don't think that I'm good enough to have an opportunity to speak with our audience and try to explain to them [something] or teach them. It's quite difficult and maybe strange for a young musician, but suddenly it helped. I read some letters by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, I compared different periods to each other — just to speak more and to conduct less. So I made the concert smaller, I mean music, but then I had about 30 minutes of describing. For sure that is not my idea. And my question is: how do you think, could it be helpful to return to lectures like this? As Leonard Bernstein Harvard lectures or as Gennady Rozhdestvensky did here in Russia (in the Soviet Union at that time) with the Radio Orchestra. Maybe we can try to use this technique and way of communicating with an audience, and it could save us not to become sellers like in the market?
— I think the way you did is fine because you are certainly very convincing, very natural and you get content to the audience. And this is the point — not to make a show. Well, [in lectures which] Bernstein did, he was quite natural, he didn't act, he was himself. And I experienced as a listener some situations as you described — like is explaining the piece, but in a way, that the guy just told stories, he found that in books. This is the point, you know, this breaking point. Be natural — it's fine, and then you will gain an audience, and they will notice you are convincing, and your words will skip through [their heart]. Then the effect will be nice for the concert manager, but maybe for the audience quite less.
Alexandra Karastoyanova-Hermentin «Tarsis» – Rychenberg Competition
Alexandra Karastoyanova-Hermentin. «Tarsis». Musikkollegium Winterthur. Conductor — P.-A. Monot
— What do you think about our conducting [in] future? So it's again to the question about sunrise, midday, and twilight or the end of the day. How will conductors' functions change in the observable future, or how the profession will change?
— Exactly the same idea!.. They don't have to become an actor. A conductor is still one person with a position among other people, who have each a role. There's no person on the stage more important than another one! Of course, as a leader on the stage you have to connect people, this is normal, but it's not a play with a marionette. This is not the point and unfortunately, you said, in your audience, people still think the conductor is the most important guy or girl on stage but this is not. And if you try, I experienced that, if you try to explain “no, not the most important person on stage!” people don't take you seriously, they think you are joking or acting. Unfortunately! But I would say, I do hope there are still very intelligent people, who imagine this world of music, who are conscious, music is more than a business, more than a cult of personality, and the new young conductor is at soon a shooting star. It is quite a pity, if it's going further in this direction, maybe I'm painting all in black, but I do think the music, classic music deserves better than that!
— In the end, we can say it is still a very interesting profession, very tricky, and sometimes quite dark. I hope that we will have enough courage to face all these problems, and we will try to keep art pure, not to make it as a market art. We will do our best!
Thank you, Piere, thank you so much! It was so great to meet you! It would be great If we had an opportunity to have dialogue again.