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I try to be loyal to the artistic ideals with which I have been raised

Monday, 12 September 2011 , ora 13.15
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I talked with Gennadi Rojdestvenski after one of his rehearsals with the Choir and the Orchestra of the George Enescu Philharmonic; the maestro spoke little, but transmitted everything through his phenomenal gestures, he smiled a lot and made jokes. After the rehearsals he was visibly tired, maybe displeased because he had something to do, disappointed in everything that is happening in nowadays music, but also in the world. 'Nothing like it exists anymore, no one writes like this anymore'- an idea which he mentioned several times during the interview.

Maestro Ghennadi Rojdestvenski, how do you feel in Bucharest?

I feel great! I love Bucharest, I have been here many times, the first time in 1953...

You won one of your first awards as conductor then...

Yes, but it happened so long ago...

Can you tell us more about that moment?

The contest was exciting, very difficult, I was nervous and I was very pleased when I won the award.

Do you have friend in Bucharest?

I had a lot of friends here, but unfortunately they died. In the first place I have to name the composers Anatol Vieru and Tiberiu Olah. Unfortunately, they are not with us anymore, and I miss them.

Did you conduct their works?

Yes, I did. Many times.

Which ones?

'Simphony No.3' by Olah, 'Cello concerto' or 'Symphony No.6' by Vieru, which he dedicated to me.

What do you think about the Choir and the Orchestra of the Philharmonic in Bucharest?

Remarkable! They made a good impression on me. The musicians are doing so great in 'Ivan the Terrible' by Prokofiev, and in 'Vox Maris' by Enescu. They play this difficult score extremely well, as if it were a popularity song.

Why did you choose this programme?

I did not choose it, it was recommended to me by the administration of the Festival, but it coincided with my desires and wishes. I sang the oratory of 'Ivan the Terrible' in Paris, last year. Maybe you heard about that, maybe someone said something hard to explain. They nominated me to play in this programme and I happily accepted.

You are one of the best of Prokofiev's performers. What is you bond with his music?

What makes me bond with Prokofiev's music? My blood, my land, the notion of motherland, the awareness of the importance of Prokofiev as one of the most brilliant pillars of 20th century music. It is close to me...From my point of view, today, the composers, maestros, painters of this type - do not exist anymore. They have disappeared. They have been replaced by electronics, by machines; the young composers do not know the classical tradition anymore. You tell them about Berlioz - nothing... About Glazunov - even less; and so on and so forth. And I understand that without these things one cannot compose music today... Every technician with secondary education knows how to plug in an appliance or a cassette recorder. But composers like Shostakovich or Britten do not exist anymore... Not one...

Do you think that emotion, human feelings, start out in music?

Yes. I think so. Unfortunately... That is why I try to be devoted to my artistic ideals with which I was educated and I do not let myself be driven by trends, as much as I can. It's very simple.

Have you met Prokofiev?

No, I have not, but I have seen him conduct, I have been at his concerts. But I have not met him personally, I was too young...

Did the fact that you have seen him influence your art?

Probably... For instance, if someone saw Bach, this would leave a mark on that person. And so would Beethoven. Sibelius studied in Vienna. In his memories there is the following episode: he rented a small room somewhere in an attic, he was just a student. He had a cottage piano in that room, and because it was in a bad condition, he invited a tuner. This would turn out to be one of the most intense impressions in his life: it turned out that he was the old man who had given Beethoven his piano. 'Looking into his eyes - Sibelius remembered, I understood, with excitement, that those eyes had seen Beethoven'... Nothing like that exists now... Everyone asks for pop, rock, football...

Do you think that 'Ivan the Terrible' is a present-day subject?

Of course it is. Life is more and more complicated, full of danger and negative emotions. War, blood and fear are everywhere in the world. Especially now, with terrorism, religious wars, nobody wants to give up, it is a cul de sac. And it is not by chance that 'Ivan the Terrible' was, centuries later, Stalin's ideal...

Why do you think that Prokofiev refused to publish this music for Eisenstein's film as a standalone work?

I think he did not have the time... It is music for a film... To compose such film music! Who composes such music? At that time, Prokofiev, Britten, Shostakovich wrote music for films... They were so serious when they approached this type of art! They did not make any concession! If they wrote, they did it at the highest level.

I have noticed that you omit some parts of Stasevich's score after Prokofiev's music...

Yes, because it is not the author's score. I would not have taken that liberty if it had been the original score. But here, some parts seem too long, then the narrator's text cannot be rendered entirely, because there are a few lines that were taken from the film. There, the words are sustained by images, but here - there is only music.

I have also noticed that, during the rehearsals, you have a narrative talent...

I do not know, I like it.

Do you think that by listening to the music of a composer we can perceive the spirit of the person behind the music?

Yes, of course...

How do you see Enescu, from this point of view?

I believe that his reputation is based on his capacity as a violinist. When you say Enescu, the common music lover asks about Enescu - the violinist. I think it is a wrong point of view. I believe that Enescu was first of all a composer, a very personal one and different from all others, and only afterwards - a violinist.

I heard him in Moscow, in 1945: he conducted, played the violin in an evening for sonatas, together with Lev Oborin, my professor; he also played the piano on another night for sonatas, this time with David Oistrach. He appeared in recitals and concerts for four days in a row. But he did not present his own compositions. I do not know why. Maybe he was very critic about his own person.

Such a work as 'Vox Maris' is not part of his popular creations, it is uncommon. And it is extremely difficult. It took me a long time to prepare it. But I am happy to perform it. Actually, I am conducting it for the first time. Maybe I did not have enough time to understand it wholly, if this wholeness is generally possible...

But do you think that now, at the beginning of the 21st century, it is time for Enescu's music?

It should be... And about 'OEdipe', about the three symphonies, without speaking about any other type, representing models of presentation of the Romanian folklore, the way that the two rhapsodies are, this kind of compositions are not written anymore. They do not exist...

What else did you perform from Enescu's music?

I recorded the three symphonies...

Which one is your favourite?

Probably the second one, I could not tell you why, but it made a great impression on me...

You are one of the greatest performers of 20th century music. How do you see its future in the 21st century?

You see, in the 20th century there was already a tendency towards authenticity. Now it does not exist anymore. Singing with old instruments of the 18th century, going back into the past... But there have been little returns, because as life itself shows us, those who have built a career by placing the tendency towards authenticity at the base are very flat performers, and that is why they hide behind this curtain. And the audience accepts it immediately!

'How Mozart or Bach wrote!' Firstly, nobody knows that! Secondly, if the whole process of rehearsal and the preparation work is built on a calculus, hair-breadth of the bow portion which must be used, through this the success as a performer is measured, then, as an performer, as a carrier of certain emotions, sensations, without any links to mathematics or with such a perspective on music - you feel that everything disappears... They say:' This is how they played in Bach's time... This is the way they played on Mozart's time... 'And I do not believe in that!

Mozart is also perceived wrong, from my point of view, as a character from a picture. However, it is not like that. Mozart is close to us as a person. He had the same feelings, he played cards, he liked to drink and he was effeminate philanderer. And all they see is a wig, back-hair and that's it. It does not seem fair to me, but maybe I am wrong... And is not by chance that nowadays, the conductors with great names exclude from their repertoires romantic music. Try for example to order Pierre Boulez, who is major figure of French music and of universal music, to play a Tchaikovsky symphony...

...Maybe he will consider it sentimental...

Yes, sentimental, old fashioned, in bad taste...A terrible situation... Fortunately, there are still people who manifest a necessary devoutness...

Therefore, we can be optimistic about the future of art?

To be optimistic, one must know a recipe.

Which one would be the recipe?

I do not know it, if I did, I would be at least the president of Russia!

At the rehearsals I noticed that you like to joke, you smile a lot, the people from the orchestra and choir smile as well, everyone admires you. Where is the so-deliberated conducting dictatorship?

The dictatorship can be of various types... There is the type of dictator-oppressor, but there is also the dictator who builds the dictatorship on love for people and trust. This is a dictatorship too, and sometimes it is more efficient than violence. I do not believe in that type of dictatorship...

You have a family of musicians: your wife, Viktoria Postnikova, is a well known pianist, and your son, Alexandr Rojdestvenski, is a prestigious violinist. It is hard or easy for you? Everyone gives advice to everyone, or you are a docile dictator at home?

I am not a dictator! I am more like a counsellor... A counsellor or an advisor... I think so...

Interviewed by Sorina Bobeico
Translated by Elena Enache and Oana Badea
MTTLC, Bucharest University