Gidon Kremer (violin)
Mate Bekavac (clarinet)
Arvo Paert (1935)
“Fratres” for violin, string orchestra, and percussion
Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996)
Chamber Symphony No. 4, op. 153 for clarinet, triangle, and string orchestra
“RUSSIA: MASKS & FACES”* with video projections (pieces to be performed without a break)
Visual material – paintings by Maxim Kantor
Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
“Serenade melancolique” (arr. for violin and string orchestra by L. Desyatnikov)
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
“Pictures at an Exhibition” (arr. for string orchestra by J. Cohen and A. Pushkarev)
Valentin Sylvestrov (1937)
Serenade for violin solo
*Russia: Masks and Faces
Music often seems to relate to images.
Images inspire composers and somehow help audiences to “understand” what they hear.
After all, we should not forget that individual listeners do tend to produce images in the mind in response to the sounds that seemingly touch something within them.
To quote the famous 19th century poet Fyodor Tyutchev, Russia as a country “can’t be understood with the mind – in Russia you can only believe.” It is therefore easily “translated” into something “mysterious”. Another view – expressed by a contemporary Russian writer, Viktor Erofeev) – is that “it simply doesn’t want to be understood”!
Nowadays, politics in Russia is revealing the dark sides of that nation’s famous “soul.” Although its citizens and its culture are often praised for their generosity and warm-heartedness, it is in the process of losing its finest qualities (to which tribute is paid in works by Lev Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov, Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninov, Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova and many other leading figures of the past). Politicians and politics, nurtured by pseudo-patriotism and an insatiable desire for power, are laying bare an ugly face by permanently lying to the world and their own people.
Although, in order to be true to the essence of their art, musicians are probably best advised to avoid taking part in the process, we cannot credibly deny that a certain “brainwashing” is taking place and that manipulation of the mass media is encouraging the Russian people to lend their support to the most insane doctrines, radically dividing the society into believers and disbelievers, into supporters and enemies.
As we listen to music and think about the world today, we cannot ignore the problems that surround us. We are part of the world in which we live.
That was what prompted Kremerata Baltica and me last year to mount a project together with a wonderful painter and writer, Maxim Kantor. Taking Mussorgsky’s great work as our starting point, we “converted” his famous “pictures” into “pictures from a different exhibition.”
After having given a number of successful performances of this challenging project in many European capitals, I have realized that its meaning can even be preserved in a “music only” presentation. Each listener then puts together his or her own “exhibition” in response to familiar sounds.
These days it is common practice for stage directors to “modernize” well-known plays and operas by setting them in as contemporary framework. This was not my intention in “Russia: Masks and Faces”, but there are some similarities.
As Kremerata Baltica and I explored the possibilities of entering into a joint venture with Maxim, we became aware that what really matters is to achieve a balance between the sounds and visuals. Neither facet should become an “illustration” of the other.
We knew that we ran the risk of our experiment being viewed as a “crossover” project (a concept to which I personally object, because the outcome is generally a “cheap” product that is easy to digest but hard to understand). In fact, our approach to the challenge was different: each art form was allowed to develop its full potential and as we walked step by step along the path set by Mussorgsky’s original score, what evolved was something new and unexpected.
One of the aims of our “production” was to speak to audiences without making reference to the works of Viktor Hartmann (who inspired Mussorgsky to write the score over 100 years ago). We wanted to make the social and political problems of our days the key issue. I think we have succeeded – at least to an extent. We focused on the effect that a totalitarian regime has on all those who are doomed to live under it, and at the same time observed the tensions and injustice from the point of view of art. All of us are aware to some degree of the problems and distress that people have faced under past dictatorships. This situation has not changed.
As we shared this project with our audiences on tour, we became aware of a number of issues which prevent us from presenting its visual side fully this evening. Nevertheless, we decided that the music of Mussorgsky’s masterpiece is so powerful that everyone listening to it can actually make up their own “story” (“exhibition”) if we merely give an indication of our aim and ensure that the separate movements are linked (not necessarily by the old titles) to events that are part of our everyday environment such as the injustice inherent in certain political movements, the vast influx of refugees, and so on.
By not looking for “illustrations”, we can set our imagination free to invent its own stories and references. They are all valid. Interpretations by any listener can be as daring as possible – there are no limits. The (old) titles might serve as a kind of anchor, giving everyone something to hold on to. However, the music is allowed to flow freely, not bound by the words, and thus has the ability to carry us much further away.
Music is by nature designed to open hearts, to seek a dialogue. For our part, I believe that we musicians have plenty to share – our despair, our joy and our hope – as we pursue our calling to serve the great creators of the past and those living among us today.
Finally, ”Russia: Masks and Faces” is not just about one ongoing issue, one country. It allows us to summarize and to focus on many issues that are present in the world around us.
Ours is a multilayered project. Two serenades – the one full of melancholy by Tchaikovsky, and the meditation by contemporary Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov – join “forces” with Mussorgsky’s chef d’oeuvre and help us to discover more about ourselves through music.
We wish you a fulfilling journey of unexpected discoveries as you travel through familiar sounds. Like the special instrumentation which we have created and premiered, they are intended to transform our outlook and our attitudes to life.