Recorded live at the Tchaikovsky Competition, the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, June 1986.
Mastered by Anastasia Rybakova at the Grand Hall studios of the Moscow Conservatory in July 2016.
Photos by Alisa Naremontti
(c) Melodia 2016
(Today about the past)
Music and competition are incompatible things. Pursuit of awards fosters athletic qualities a musician doesn't need at all, and turns off the creative, the meaningful, the personal. When pursuit is over, it still goes on under its own inertia, and music is perceived as a platform for fast finger movements and emotions that accompany those movements.
Competitive pianism is an illness that I, too, suffered from in younger years . In 1986 I played at the Tchaikovsky Competition (musicians call it Tchainik – the Russian word for teapot). I was not admitted to the final round but got a prize for best performance of Tchaikovsky’s music at the competition named after Tchaikovsky. Now, many lives after that moment, I feel like looking back and bringing this archival recording to your attention.
Beethoven. The third movement (variations) from the 30 th Sonata. In that music I heard echoes of various other musics that existed not only before Beethoven but also after him. For instance, Pachelbel, Scarlatti, Handel, Haydn, Chopin, Schubert, Grieg, Brahms and, of course, in the last variation before the reprise of the theme, my favourite band: Yes.
Wishing to demonstrate my attitude toward the fact that the program of the first round must include etudes, I played two etudes without a pause – Scriabin с hopin.
All participants must play works of Tchaikovsky at the Tchaikovsky Competition. And that was exactly the music I was not on easy terms with. When I was a young boy, we had a dacha (a vacation home) three stations away from the town of Klin where Pyotr Ilyich had lived. I heard and memorized the word “Tchaikovsky housemuseum” when I was in my babyhood. Many important things were associated with the dacha. I first arrived there at the age of eight months and started walking a few days after – quite literally. I walked a distance of about two and a half meters on my two legs. It was there, at the dacha, where my mother taught me to see the beauty of nature. And then, when I began my relationship with music, a Krasny Oktyabr' ( Red October) upright piano was purchased and brought to the dacha so I could practice there. And, as was likely the case with any Soviet child with musical inclinations, amidst a row of fatally boring scales and etudes, there came the Tchaikovsky's Children’s Album. My mom was able to somehow explain this music so that it immediately became an integral part of my life. Some of the composer’s other works came later. And then there was the “housemuseum,” where we went on a number of occasions. In short, I loved Tchaikovsky.
Then I started to grow up. When I entered my teens and started to protest against everything, Tchaikovsky was the first thing I threw overboard from the ship of modernity . His colleagues and contemporaries went overboard right after him, but it was Tchaikovsky in particular who seemed to be the responsible party for all things alien. I had “found myself” in 20 th century music, and through it tried to find my way to music of the past. However, Tchaikovsky was not on the list of approved composers. He was strictly denied any place next to Messiaen, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Schnittke and other composers “of mine.” Then I entered the conservatory and it dawned on me that I would have to prepare for a competition named after that very same Tchaikovsky. I was unable to play anything without feeling it was 100 per cent mine. What could I do? At a certain moment for some reason I went to the “housemuseum,” where I hadn’t been for a long time. I felt as if I had arrived there from another life, from another world where they speak a different language and have different laws, where everything is different. So there was – I stood there trying to edit a “film” in my mind, gazing at the paths Tchaikovsky used to walk along, dubbing his music to the picture like a soundtrack. All in vain. I entered the house, looked at his grand piano, his baton, his manuscripts. No effect. I moved to another room. A bed, a jacket, a dressing gown and slippers. Eh, I thought, Pyotr Ilyich would hardly be pleased to know that strangers come to his house every day and look at all his things.
I took a train back to Moscow. And then it happened. I don’t know why. I suddenly felt Tchaikovsky as an extremely lonely and extremely closed person who had an infinitely subtle perception of the world; as a man to whom life was, first of all, an impossibility of happiness, an impossibility to overcome borders, be it the borders of social norms or temporal borders assigned to a man during his earthly existence. And at the same time, he had a sensation of absolute harmony and fabulous beauty because the tragedy of impossibility is just our personal condition that will end as soon as this life ends. Now I’m trying to formulate all this, but at that moment it of course appeared without any words and reasoning, just all at once, out of the blue.
I always loved Prokofiev. I don’t even understand how one can dislike Prokofiev.
When I was a schoolboy, I preferred his sonatas to the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and many others. It hurt me to hear someone say that Prokofiev had “no emotions”. What he really lacks is morbidness and banality. That’s why he has really deep emotions and really powerful beauty. Prokofiev’s music did something important to me at a certain microlevel. It seemed to be a model of the world where I wanted to live in if I could choose. Everything in that world is so integral, void of conflict between good and evil. That fairy-tale world is no less “realistic” than the pulse of a modern city. What’s funny is serious, and what’s serious is funny. Destruction is a form of creation, and harshness consists of as much love as tenderness does.
Tatiana Petrovna Nikolayeva told me how she once came to her teacher Alexander Borisovich Goldenweiser’s dacha at Nikolina Gora. “…The lesson was over and we went to the forest – and ran into Prokofiev. She adored the forest! And he said, ‘Let’s go to my place, I’ve written a new sonata. Let me play it for you’, and he led us to his place. He sat down and started to play, and the slow movement sounded as if that music itself came from the forest. Sergei Sergeyevich made deliberate stops at some of the chords and sequences he particularly liked and said as he was playing, ‘And now… listen, this is the forest spot… HERE it is! HERE! … once again now… HERE!..’ He wanted us to feel it like he did.”
So, it’s June 1986. I’m twenty years old. I sit on the stage of the Grand Hall of the conservatory, doing my “tchainik exercises” and looking for a medicine that cures competitive pianism. My personal imaginary banner features a phrase by Glenn Gould – “A performance is not a contest but a love affair.”
Now it’s July 2016, I’m sitting with sound engineer Anastasia Rybakova in a fantastic mastering studio located right behind the stage of the Grand Hall of the conservatory where this all happened. The recordings have been preserved in perfect condition, and we hear not only the piano but also the atmosphere of the audience thirty years back when there were no mobile phones, and people coughed much more seldom than now. Nevertheless, something like an alarm watch rang once during the performance, and it took up the tune from Prokofiev’s sonata perfectly in key, adding another level of meaning to that masterpiece.
However, not only were there people in the audience, but also a sparrow who somehow managed to get in. Its voice is especially well-heard in Tchaikovsky’s January, and it is no less important than the notes written by Pyotr Ilyich. The recording gets transformed to a completely different genre thanks to that sparrow. I guess that Cage, Messiaen and Kuryokhin would fully approve of such a rendition of Tchaikovsky, each in his own way. And Tchaikovsky would, too. His music does not fit in the venues bordered with man-made walls, and the sparrow reminded us of that. At the same time that sparrow had an indisputable advantage over us, the contestants – it was free. It flew in, performed at the Grand Hall of the conservatory, connecting January 1876 with June 1986 and July 2016, and flew away. This recording is published with its kind permission.
Translated by Nikolai Kuznetsov and AB
Edited by Cazimir Liske
iTunes release date: 25 November 2016