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Performance Mastery and the Brass Tubas

Cello, Jury, Organizing Committee, Piano, Violin, Voice, Woodwinds, Brass Instruments
Performance Mastery and the Brass TubasValery Gergiev about the world premiere and the Tchaikovsky Competition

The world premiere of Rodion Shchedrin’s new score The Mass for Remembrance for a cappella choir will be held on 26 February 2019 at the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre. And the next day, under the direction of Valery Gergiev, La Scala in Milan will see the premiere of the new production of Khovanshchina by Modest Mussorgsky.

Around the same days, Valery Gergiev is preparing a large-scale festival of the Mariinsky Theatre dedicated to the 175th anniversary of the birth of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Also, in his exclusive interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, he will give his first comments on the main event of the season, the upcoming XVI International Tchaikovsky Competition, which will be held in Moscow and St. Petersburg from 17 to 29 June 2019.

In the recent years, almost all the major premieres of Rodion Shchedrin’s new works have taken place at the Mariinsky Theatre. Was his new Mass of Remembrance score for a cappella choir (based on the inscription on Nikolai Gogol’s gravestone) composed on request of the Mariinsky Theatre?

Valery Gergiev: It was something that Rodion Konstantinovich Shchedrin could not fail to write: a dedication to Maya Mikhailovna Plisetskaya. We are looking forward to this premiere. Rodion Konstantinovich Shchedrin and Maya Mikhailovna Plisetskaya are great friends of the Mariinsky Theatre, and our artistic and human friendship is inseparable. I really hope that our work won’t disappoint him. The main thing is that our greatest Russian composer continues to create and to write for the team of the Mariinsky Theatre and for our wonderful halls. Today we have several large venues where the greatest works ever created by the humanity can be performed.

In four months, the XVI International Tchaikovsky Competition will be launched. It has radically changed since you headed it, both in terms of its rules and in terms of its management which offers a serious concert career for the winners. This year you have expanded the competition by adding new nominations: Woodwinds and Brass. What is the need for adding those new instruments?

Valery Gergiev: Today it is almost impossible to organize a new competition even in the slightest degree comparable to the Tchaikovsky Competition. This is my considered opinion. At the same time, we cannot but think about what will happen to our national performing school in the next 30 to 50 years. We must understand that our school is not confined to pianists. The step we have taken is very necessary and, perhaps, even somewhat belated, considering the current situation, when in some regions it’s a problem to find two bassoonists. I do hope that the Tchaikovsky Competition will give a tremendous impetus to the development of the wind and brass school in Russia, and that we will recall with gratitude this historic moment of the expansion of its nominations. In 1958, the program of the Tchaikovsky Competition included only Piano and Violin. Today this competition is the world’s number one music forum, and it should not have any limits. And our task is to reveal the brightest talents among young people who devote their lives to classical music, including those playing the flute, oboe, tuba or bassoon. In any country of the world, these disciplines are worth their weight in gold. However today, even in countries that have not yet claimed a significant role in the musical world, for instance Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan, playing on wind and brass instruments is becoming increasingly demanded; orchestras are springing up like mushrooms. It is not true that Bach and Tchaikovsky are worshipped only in Germany or in Russia. Classical music triumphantly marches around the world, because the world of music is different. And the Tchaikovsky Competition, thanks to its new disciplines, will further strengthen its role in this world.

Not so long ago, lists of jury members appeared on the Competition website. Most of the jury chairs are senior managers: for instance, Martin Engström (Violin) is the Founder & Executive Director of the Verbier Festival, and Sir Clive Gillinson (Cello) is the Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall. Sarah Billinghurst Solomon, opera house administrator and former Assistant General Manager for Artistic Affairs at the Metropolitan Opera, will serve as the jury chairwoman of the Voice category, etc. Many jury members have participated in the latest Tchaikovsky Competitions under your leadership. What does this permanent circle mean?

Valery Gergiev: Carnegie Hall, the Verbier and Lucerne Festivals are the world’s top venues. For many years I myself have led the Pacific Music Youth Festival in Sapporo gathering together the best musicians from all over the world, and for the second season in the row I’ve acted as the music director of the Verbier Festival. In any case, I make my choice not only basing on long-standing artistic and human friendship, but also on the fact that the musical organizations headed by these people are the world leaders. Would I, without relying on anyone, be able to provide opportunities for winners of the Tchaikovsky Competition to perform at prestigious venues? Yes, like nine years ago, I will answer this question in the affirmative. All the time I’ve headed not only the Mariinsky Theatre, but also other prominent world-famous teams, say the Rotterdam and London Philharmonic Orchestras. I was the principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, and now I conduct the Munich Philharmonic. I have my own possibilities. But when we do it together, our capabilities grow many times over. We will definitely organize the performances of our winners in New York, in Paris, in Verbier, in Japan, China, Korea, in many cities and countries. And it’s not even worth mentioning, because we are all professionals and we are tightly connected. I just want to emphasize that my sole condition for the jury members was to be present in Moscow throughout the entire competition. You know as it was 60 and even 30-40 years ago: to work on the jury of the Tchaikovsky Competition was then considered a great honor for such tremendous figures as Maria Callas or David Oistrakh, Emil Gilels, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonid Kogan. I found it necessary to return this requirement.

Are you planning to hold the voting according to the same pattern that provoked so much controversy at the last Competition?

Valery Gergiev: Voting will have to be discussed in more detail yet. We have never disregarded this. But many colleagues have turned out to be too sensitive and prone to completely unexpected – I would even say over-radical – evaluations of young artists’ performances. My opinion is that the entire work of the Competition, including the jury members, should be permeated first and foremost with a benevolent attitude towards the musicians; strictness and subjectivity should come second. You can worry about the composer, you can say that Mozart cannot be played like this, but I don’t welcome it when they go to extreme, destructive assessments. The voting mechanism should protect young musicians performing at the Competition from radical subjectivity.

In a few days you will be having the premiere of Khovanshchina on the stage of La Scala, with Mariinsky soloists singing. What is the essence of this project?

Valery Gergiev: Yes, indeed, a large and strong team of singers from the Mariinsky Theatre has been invited to a new production of Khovanshchina at La Scala. We have a long-standing partnership with Italian colleagues, and personally my cooperation with La Scala has been going on for almost thirty years. The last time when Khovanshchina was performed on that stage was about 20 years ago: we brought our legendary production by Leonid Baratov and Fedor Fedorovsky. Now we are doing a new stage version of Khovanshchina at La Scala, staged by a very interesting Italian director Mario Martone. I hope we will have a strong theatrical result. For me the main thing is that Khovanshchina will sound in the theatre perceived as the cradle of many of the greatest Italian operas, that Mussorgsky’s opera will be performed on this stage. In general, the attitude of Italy to Russia, to Russian musicians has never been hostile, cold or cynical, and we all appreciate it very much.

You are preparing a major festival dedicated to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, to take place in March and April 2019 at all the Mariinsky stages, in St. Petersburg, Vladikavkaz, Vladivostok and at the Easter Festival. You have already done the dedication to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov 25 years ago.  What are you going to present this time?

Valery Gergiev: We have big plans: we will perform all 15 of his operas and a number of orchestral works. In 1994, we were not even close to such an ambitious target. There will be operas that are almost not performed, or not performed at all, such as Servilia, The Noblewoman Vera Sheloga and Mlada. This is our oblation to the great Russian composer who has linked many of his creative plans with the Mariinsky Theatre troupe. We had prepared an impressive program for the festival in commemoration of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 150th birth anniversary: works by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Anatoly Lyadov, Igor Stravinsky, Modest Mussorgsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Olivier Messiaen were performed; Boris Godunov was staged in the orchestration by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. We attempted to trace the influence of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, including the example of French music. Today, the possibilities of the Mariinsky Theatre troupe are enormous, and we can offer the public not just a few, but all the 15 operas by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. A new serious generation of artists has emerged who can present their interpretation of the role, and cope with all vocal and stage tasks. In our times, we grew up on Giuseppe Verdi’s repertoire in a similar way: first we performed 3 or 5 Giuseppe Verdi’s operas, and then, almost 15. This repertoire made our singers serious artists of the European level. We also gradually mastered the huge Sergei Prokofiev’s heritage: operas, ballets, cantatas, symphonic compositions. Something similar will happen in the next two or three months which we dedicate to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.