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A walk with Gubaidulina //

08/12/12 11:03

A walk with Gubaidulina


A significant event occurred recently in Ukraines musical life: one of the greatest contemporary composers visited this country
By Dmytro DESIATERYK, The Day Photo by Kostiantyn HRYSHYN, The Day

Sofia Gubaidulina was born in Chistopol, Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Her father, Asgat Gubaidulin, was a geodesic engineer; mother, Fedosia Gubaidulina, a teacher; and grandfather, Masgud Gubaidulin, a mullah. In 1932 the family moved to Kazan, where Sofia went to a music school and then studied composition and piano at the Music Gymnasium and the Conservatory. In 1963 she completed a postgraduate course in composition under the supervision of Professor Vissarion Shebalin. Gubaidulinas works were hushed up in the Soviet era, and composing music to films was by far the only way for her to earn a living: those who were children in the 1970s perhaps remember her score to the famous cartoon Mowgli. But what really catapulted the composer to fame were her symphonic opuses, compositions for soloists, choirs, orchestras, and instrumental groups more than 100 oeuvres many of which are in the repertoire of the most prominent musicians and ensembles, performed at festivals, and are part of musical education institutions curriculum throughout the world. Since 1992 Gubaidulina has been living in Appen, near Hamburg, still remaining a citizen of Russia. In 2011 Kazan saw celebrations of the composers 80th birthday, including two festivals named after her. She was pronounced Honorary Citizen of Kazan. In Ukraine, Gubaidulina visited Lviv and Kyiv. The Lyre of Orpheus for violin, strings, and percussion and Fachwerk for bayan, percussion and strings were performed in the capital of Galicia, while Kyiv heard Seven Words for violoncello, bayan, and strings. Besides, the National Music Academy awarded Ms. Gubaidulina and her longtime friend and follower, the Ukrainian composer Valentyn Sylvestrov, the title of honorary professor. As a Den correspondent, I had a unique opportunity to interview Gubaidulina, for which I am very grateful to the superb musician, bayan player, Roman Yusipey it is his efforts that made not only this interview, but also the very visit of Gubaidulina to Ukraine possible. KAZAN AND MUSIC Ms. Gubaidulina, you grew up and studied in Kazan. What kind of city was it at the time?
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At the time, it was a large industrial center with many factories, which also had a very good university and excellent intellectuals there was an influential medical school, famous professors In other words, it was a sufficiently intellectual, but still industrial, city which looked rather modest, or even less than modest, from the architectural point of view. And how much has Kazan changed now? The city has won the right to sell oil on its own, and, as a result, it has improved its face very much: new churches and mosques were built and some old ones were restored. Some cities, for example, Moscow, have lost from novelties, but Kazan has won. From this angle, the Tatars have more taste than the Russians do. If they restore or do something in the ethnic way, it is good taste without any exaggeration. But the picture used to be as follows: very good intellectuals and concert halls full of very attractive people, on the one hand, and dire architectural poverty, on the other. Where did you seek solace among all this industry? Music was my shelter. My youth until the age of 20 was the beginning, the preparation. I began to learn playing the piano at five. Then was a music school with nice people and excellent mentors, concerts, theater, and the conservatory which I graduated from at 20 as a pianist. Finally, I moved to Moscow to study at the music composition faculty. Thats all. MOMENT OF THE GREATEST CONCENTRATION Then you were born as a musician. And what is your music born from? Everything begins with a walk alone because it is a moment of the greatest concentration. Back in Kazan I liked walking around the city. I first walked with father. He worked as geodesic engineer. Suppose an airfield is being built the geodesist is the first to work. He will walk across everything and mark what will be constructed where. He would take me with him whenever he went to work. I learned to listen to silence at the time. After he had taken me across the woods and fields around the city, I saw that I could stroll on my own and make this circle without him. I was perhaps running a risk, but I would do so because I needed to be close to nature: I needed the trees, the sky, and the ground in order to concentrate and hear the sounds of the world and of myself. This is in fact the original impulse which begets everything. I am an intuitive-minded person. My intuition is inherent in me, while a rational reconsideration of the architectonic musical whole is an acquired thing. Does this mean that rationalism is sort of a tool for you? I am speaking of the form and meaning of things. But in the beginning it is an intuitive hearing of the world. Everything sounds when an individual falls into a state of concentration a tree, a leaf, the earth, and the sky give off sounds. And a human being also sounds, but he or she does not do this concretely these sounds are too complicated and different. This is a pure fantasy, of course. I think it is a fantasy about being able to sound out of a time context, but it is also a big lure: the very condition is so attractive that you feel like inviting others to take this journey, i.e., to present this hearing in such a way that the sound could produce a concrete thing. Then this lure forces you to work hard and think on what to drop and what to bring in. This is followed by what can be also called intellectual work. The entire human organism is involved in this. But the beginning is in walks, in the moments of concentration, when you are oblivious of daily routine. NUMBERS Speaking of the rational as far as I know, you are developing a system of music composition, in which active use is made of numbers. How does this look like? You know, it is a still unfinished experiment. The technique is rather complicated and time-consuming. It is about the structure of time. It seems to me that somewhere in the 17th century a one-voice tissue was expanding and turning into polyphony, and people suddenly discovered harmony of the global space. This formed a fault line in the history of music: this harmony became dominant, while all the rest was only its derivation. This caused a colossal upsurge the 19th-century classics and romanticism. But every phenomenon is bound to experience growth, acme, and decline. This acme was followed by the 20th century, when it turned out that the musical matter had become so rich that all the space was filled with structural thinking and there was no place, no field, to go to. There is no space for a walk. Exactly. This calls to mind the superb title of a work by the great Italian composer Luigi Nono: There Are No Roads, but You Must Go. It is about what we are discussing: the whole sonic area is also a sonic system, and there is no way out of this system all the 12 sounds are involved in the structure. This is the difficulty. And how can one overcome this? Music once opened the harmony of space. But it seems to me that a harmony of time will also open in a very distant future. This is what looms in my brain when I deal with numbers. I correlate the ratios of temporal proportions. Suppose there is a very active, dynamic and, vice versa, a static issue. It is possible to trace a relationship between them, and they can be the matter of a rational thinking process, one very important for art. You cannot work on intuition alone, for art demands that intuitive material be restrained and have a counterpoise in the shape of self-limitation. My impression is that the laws of temporal relations can play this role of restriction. For the reason, I have been keen on the Fabonacci numbers since the 1980s. They are a paradigm for the existence of the world as such, for planetary systems and all the living beings are also subordinated to these relations. This is also called golden section it also occurs in architecture and painting. Its application can help find a true ratio of temporal proportions. I call it the technique of architectonic knots. Moreover, I can draw stunning parallels with other researchers in this case it turned out, for example, that Bach also dealt with the golden section. In a word, my
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numbers mean working with time it is temporal proportions linked to some ideas. I do other things, too, but it is sort of a personal experiment. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I do not. DODECAPHONY You mentioned the changes that occurred in the 20th century. But the most important of them is a new music composition system invented by Arnold Schoenberg. Dodecaphony still provokes diametrically opposite judgments, but it has irreversibly changed academic music. What in fact caused these innovations? The tissue of sound is undergoing an evolution. Schoenberg understood and described this very precisely: as music had acquired a large number of chromatisms and halftones, tonality had lost a constructive force and stopped being a constructive method by the early 20th century. There is a keynote the center of attraction, as well as a dominant and a subdominant, i.e., the middle, the top, and the bottom. And, gradually, the middle occupied the whole place, subjugated everything, and, at the same time, lost its attraction force. Being very well aware of this, Schoenberg described it as follows: firstly, an expanded tonality. The keynote (tonic) subjugates other areas. Then goes free atonality, i.e., absence of tonality and, hence, emancipation of dissonance. This is the situation in which the composer is. As a person who holds himself responsible for the situation, Schoenberg is aware that if this catastrophe has occurred, tonality has stopped being constructive and functional: there is no top, bottom or middle so everything is permissible, like in The Brothers Karamazov. But it must not be so. One must restore the mandatory principle of the sonic tissue. He worked on this for a long time and restored the sonic tissues constructive force: here are 12 sounds, and all compositions will be constructed on their basis. Tonality lost its structure for the whole, not only for the particular, while Schoenberg introduced what I call limitation technique in order to keep things from total permissibility. There must be rules and obligations. He introduced this for the musical matter, not for the sake of form. This is what the 12-tone system meant. But the most difficult point is all this is emancipation of dissonance. This means that the entire tissue is homogeneous and bereft of any attraction. Music lost a property that united it with cosmos. For the attractive and repulsive forces are the law of life, and dodecaphony only finalized the loss of this. But this new law produced good results. Dodecaphony produced a colossal result: a lot of good compositions were created, but it comprised a fatal drawback known as entropy. All things equalize and the systems energy potential comes to an end. Physicists call this death of the universe. What is to be done? As soon as the mid-century composers saw that it was a deadlock which should be broken by other aspects of the musical language. There are lots of them: rhythm, articulation, timbres, spectrums This process is underway now. There is a space to go out to. Many, like me, are dealing with the form. They are dealing with temporal proportions in order to prepare the next wave. It is just the law of life. If life has been lost in one aspect, another aspect will make up for this. The universe is expanding, but galaxies are spiraling up. Gravity and repulsion. If this gets lost, so does the law of life, and something is to be done. There will be good compositions in any case. AN ARCHAIC FUTURE Obviously, in some cases of which you are speaking, when such composers as Mauricio Kagel prescribe not only how a musician should play, but also how they should move around, performing this kind of compositions turns into a veritable absurdist show. I would say this is also a way to protect oneself from death for the sake of life. Theatrical techniques, the introduction of color into a piece of music, all kinds of initiatives I call this period an archaic future. It is a very interesting period: a decline that nurses a new wave. A paradoxical formula: archaic future Yes, but it always happens like this: antiquity, classics, romanticism a tripartite rhythm of the course of history. If we go through a decline after the acme, this can also result in absolute death unless humankind finds enough strength. But it seems to have enough strength so far. Yes, we are on the threshold of a period that will be preparing a new spell of growth, while a decline promotes what can be called antiquity. Besides, laws do not work in a sonoristic space. The 20th century produced a colossal wealth of sounds, which the history of music had perhaps never seen before. But wealth also comprises a very grave danger. This is what we have now: there is wealth as well as a very serious malady inside. But where is a malady, there is a salvation. Do you think melody has left serious music for good? It must have been upstaged in this period. But I think it is coming back now. It is a long process, and half a century does not matter in this case. It will take 300 years or so to prepare the next growth. Everybody has an initiative of their own, and everybody will put a grain on the scales of the future. History is a slow lady. Of course she is. We should not expect anything to change at once. But, on the other hand, it is worthwhile to reflect a little on the future. BAYAN
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Let us talk about the present. The bayan has always been a pariah of academic music, but you suddenly began to compose for it. Why? This instrument very attractive for the composer is laying claim to a serious role. From this angle, I visualize the instrument as a person who wants to establish himself on the philharmonic, rather than on a secondary and entertaining, stage. The 20th century brought forth some wonderful things, including enthusiasts who play this instrument. They are very gifted and intellectual people: Friedrich Lips in Moscow, Geir Draugsvoll in Denmark, to whom I dedicated my latest composition, and Elsbeth Moser in Hanover. She visited us twice, and I just fell in love with her Yes, she is beautiful. They are all the people who have a musical talent and adore their instrument. For example, Moser says: I learned to play the piano, but this did not inspire me too much. But this instrument is just the thing! She treats the bayan [Russian accordion. Ed.] as a living creature. She told me this. Lips takes the same attitude. I first met him at our section of the Composers League. He represented other composers who wrote for him, and I then began to visit his lectures to students in order to familiarize myself with the instrument and, as a result, composed a solo piece, De profundis. It was my first, and I think successful, experience with the bayan. This work began to be often played on stage at concerts and in classrooms. I think Seven Words for bayan, violoncello and strings is also a success, while the solo composition a sonata for bayan was much worse. In any case, the bayan attracts me because it itself wants to be attractive, which is very important for the composer. You can compose one more strings quartet, but theres so much of this kind of repertoire! But here the instrument itself wants you to care about it. And when you see that you are needed, this, I would say, offers inspiration a very useful thing if you are to compose something. I just love this person bayan as well as the personalities of performers. I wish I would play more music with them. ELECTRICITY In 1969-70 you worked at the Moscow Experimental Studio of Electronic Music in the Skriabin Museum and composed the electronic piece Viviente non viviente (Living Non-Living). Why did you never resume this kind of composing? At first I, like many other composers, was in it. We were in close contact there. I would say it was an esoteric society of musicians who wanted to do something in this area. But, frankly speaking, I finally get disappointed. It seems at first that you can do very much with the electric sound. But then you see that you cant do this or that. Too much depends on such mundane things as quality of the film or the device. I soon took interest in other, non-traditional, instruments which also required a lot of time. Besides, even if you discover enormous wealth in terms of timbre and sonoristics, it is not the main thing for me. Weve got enough wealth even without electronics, the latter only adds more. I would follow the line of filtering rather than generating the means of expression. Wealth is also a terrible thing. I decided to look for a way out in different things. PERFORMERS You gave two concerts in Ukraine. I would like to know your opinion about Ukrainian performers. Did the soloists bayan player Roman Yusipey, violinist Maria Tkachyk, violoncellist Ivan Kucher, the orchestra Lviv Virtuosos, and the chamber ensemble Kyiv Soloists cope with their tasks, did they manage to put your message of an author across to the audiences? The performers, orchestras, and conductors are excellent, and the soloists are just outstanding. Ukraine is a country that will see a growth. I can feel a very intensive energy here. In some other places, I can feel lack of inner strength theyve already had an upsurge, and now they are short of stamina. But here I felt something of the opposite. Not all things have been embraced as much as possible, but the inner force of this embracement is far stronger and the preparation for a new growth is far more intensive than in other, perhaps more civilized and intellectually developed, countries. Here, too, there is enough intellect but theres more of inner energy. And the musicians are splendid. Is there a difference between post-Soviet and Western musicians in their attitude to contemporary music? I dont think there are any special differences. I recently visited Shanghai and, before that, I had been a composer at a Lucerne residence. Different audiences, different performers, different finances The gravest problem is that performers have to work too much everywhere to meet the living standards. And in the West? Yes. I wouldnt think so. Everywhere. You have to work too much, and art needs a free space because energy must be restored. If an individual works all the time, he or she gets poorer. This primarily applies to performers. If they are tired, they cannot do their best. I can see tiredness everywhere. We live in a tired civilization. This is a major hindrance. Can this be rectified in some way? This just depends on finances. Lucerne hosts a very rich and prestigious festival because there are many sponsors there. The
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performance is magnificent I dont know what money you must have to invite such teams. A very high level. Musicians have every possibility to prepare for the concerts very well. But in Shanghai a city in what seems to be a richest country they cannot buy good instruments. They lack understanding in purely down-to-earth terms. And they are very tired people perhaps more than anywhere else. The citys population is about 25 million. The very awareness of this makes you tired. Everyone has to work a many places to keep their family afloat. Everybody is tired. In Russia, too, for the same reasons, every musician has to work at more than one place, he or she cannot devote themselves to one team only. I think the same story is in Ukraine, but it seems to me the soil is more fertile here. It is important. Besides, there are a lot of temples here. I understood at the Lavra that this religious tradition is of paramount importance for the future because the future depends on spiritual height and activity. If you only live at the material level, things will come to an end very soon. THE CHURCH AND THE ARTIST Religion and art are not always allies It does not matter whether or not there is a conflict. What matters is that this exists. Humankind has never lived without this dimension. No matter what attitude there was or is to this, but this exists and lives on. Let some individuals believe that this is all profanation, but critical attitude is also part of life. In Europe, this is almost prosecuted. I know parents whose children are bullied and beaten up at school because they go to church a vivid illustration of how the church and all things spiritual have lost prestige. Of course, one might think that the spiritual can live without church support, but it is wrong. But an artist may show valor even in spite of religion. Every creator is Goethes Faust of sorts. This is a major problem because it is a question of rituals and church guidelines. The clergy not always support art. One has to prove his or her truth (truth, not the rule) in his or her own individual ways. For example, I had a very grave drama, when the Stuttgart-based Bach Academy commissioned me to do Passions for St. John. I decided to combine texts from the Gospel and the Apocalypse in order to get two interconnecting lines. One line comments on what is happening on the Earth and the other on what is going on in heaven, which makes a cross, my favorite symbol. But, to do so, I needed an orchestra and an organ. The language was Russian. On the other hand, I was aware that it was a church theme and church guidelines approve of human voice rather than musical instruments a choir and soloists. But, as an artist, I missed a choir, and there was a serious conflict deep in my soul. The artist got the upper hand, but this left a bitter feeling I did something against the regulations. Then I visited the Valaam Monastery and met a hermit I think he was Father Valentin by name. He lived on a secluded island. I told him about my doubt. He relieved me of that pain, saying: Disregard what you will be told. There are too many people now, who like lecturing. I would say everything depends on individual adaptation to life. BETWEEN A TREE AND A HIGHWAY You recalled a hermit and I thought that composers, at least those I know personally, are also sort of hermits who prefer silence and privacy. Is anchoretism an indispensable feature of your profession? Not for all. For me it is indispensable: if I lose this, I lose almost everything. I always need a tree among other things. My lifetime dream is to have a tree nearby, to which I could come up and nobody would drive me away. I will be driven away in a park but not in my courtyard. But there also are composers of a totally different nature. On the contrary, they like big cities. Take, for example, John Cage [outstanding 20th-century American composer. Ed.]. It was very interesting to speak to him. He used to listen to and draw inspiration from technical noises. I even remember a film on him: he sits with his friend by the road, automobiles and trains are passing by, but he listens attentively to these noises and finds poetry in them. So it is all very individual. MACHINES Again, by way of analogy: you said about automobiles [machines in Russian. Ed.], but I recalled that you once said in an interview about the machinization of humans as a dangerous tendency. Indeed, I can see many people turning into machines right now. Ive come across this kind of people. For example, I approach an airport employee for some information. But she does not hear my question, she gives me all the information recorded in her brain very fast, without taking into account that I do need this information. It makes no difference for this machine who she is speaking to. She also considers me a machine which will perceive and take in what it needs. I am afraid this is a really infectious thing. Maybe, intensive work with computers really affects the psyche. I will dare to argue with you. Machinization as part of a social setup has always existed. The bureaucracy is also a machine that tends to turn people into subordinated cogs. No doubt. But there is now a danger of different pressure. I addition to the abovementioned, there is also person-related machinization. Yes, the bureaucracy used to pressure us from outside, but we could find a nook to hide in. But now there is a danger that there will be no place to hide because man himself will wish to become a machine. I cannot imagine my life without a computer, but I am not turning into a computer as a result. To use something as an instrument is a different thing, but the ongoing process concerns children rather than people of your age. What protects your age is a set of missions to be accomplished, but I am afraid that the next generation, which is now using nothing but this in school, will take a different attitude. The girl who gave me information is not your age she is 18. When still a child, she received very attractive, useful and indispensable assistance from a machine, but this had such an impact on her In any case, I view this as a danger for the future.
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69, , 13 2012

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