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Ligeti's Requiem score has travelled with me halfway around the world...

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Stanislav Kochanovsky

The name of this St Petersburg 36 years old conductor has been seen on the pages of European media very often in the past few seasons. Stanislav Kochanovsky regularly gives concerts abroad, accepts invitations from the world’s leading symphonic orchestras, and tackles large-scale opera projects.
– Stanislav, many people remember that some time ago you headed Philharmonic orchestra in Kislovodsk. How did it happen that an absolute intellectual from Saint Petersburg got to North Caucasus?
– I was invited to the North Caucasus Philharmonic to conduct a concert at the annual summer festival named after Safonov. I’ll never forget this programme – five overtures by Beethoven and his Fifth Symphony. A few minutes before the concert, the director of the Philharmonia Svetlana Berezhnaya came to my dressing room and asked if I was interested in becoming chief conductor. And in case of a positive answer, she was ready to announce to the audience that the orchestra had a new chief conductor. I had just ten seconds to think it over. Of course I said “yes!”, and all I had to do after that was just to put on my bow tie, take my conductor’s baton and go to the stage.
– No doubt it was an exciting moment both for you and for the musicians.
– Exactly! You should have seen their eyes! The orchestra played with great enthusiasm and extraordinary energy. I’ll never forget that concert and I am grateful for the five years I spent with these people; I was lucky to have a fully equipped professional symphony orchestra. We were able to play any repertoire, including musical works I had only dreamt of up until that point: for example Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” and “Prometheus” by Scriabin. Over five seasons we really filled the gap by performing music of the 20th century.  The names of Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg and Schnittke began to appear more often on the philharmonic billboard and for the first time the orchestra performed works by Webern and Ligeti. During our 3rd season a philharmonic choir was formed, which meant we were able to perform cantatas and oratorio scores. And at the same time we started to stage operas such as Iolanta, Eugene Onegin, Haensel und Graetel, La Nozze di Figaro, The Demon. It was a very intensive time. 
 – I remember that in the 2015/16 season at the Christmas concert in Florence you replaced Vladimir Jurowski, and you conducted “The Nutcracker” with Maggio Musicale Fiorentino orchestra. From time to time you perform with Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra which is led by Jurowski. Not long ago, photos of you with Michail Jurowski appeared on your social media - how long have you been in touch with this artistic dynasty?
– Mikhail Jurowski played a significant role in my conductor’s life. We met at his masterclass in Vilnius in 2010. It is thanks to him that in March 2012 I received a call from the famous Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra. At the time, his son Vladimir Jurowski had been newly appointed as Artistic Director there. They offered me to rehearse one of his first programmes, which is how my long and intensive cooperation with this outstanding orchestra started. After the preparation of programmes for Vladimir Jurowski, I was trusted to conduct concerts in Moscow and concert tours in Russia, Germany and South Korea. 
– And how did your European career start?
– It was a classic scenario when, because of illness of a famous maestro, a young conductor got his chance. On 5th of April 2014, I replaced Yuri Temirkanov in Rome with the orchestra of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. I knew about it six days before the concert, and the next week in Italy was dream-like. I experienced a strong feeling that this wasn’t happening to me; I fell in love with this orchestra from the very first rehearsal. It was a chemistry which can’t be explained with words. We played all the three concerts with amazingly high spirit, with a programme of three scenes from “Boris Godunov” by Mussorgsky with Evgeny Nikitin and “Sheherazade” by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Stanislav Kochanovsky

Debut with Royal Concertgebouw Orchestar in Amsterdam (с) Simon Van Boxtel

– Everybody knows about the difficult situation with discipline in Italian orchestras. Have you faced this problem?

– Everyone remembers the famous movie “Prova d'orchestra” by Fellini and how it ends. But Antonio Pappano has incredibly special musicians who give all their passion to music. I had a very strong creative connection with Santa Cecilia Orchestra, I immediately returned to them after the first collaboration. We have more concerts planned together for future seasons which is very precious for me. Working with such a great orchestra always leaves a pleasant aftertaste, even if you are just a guest conductor and have only a week to enjoy this love affair.

– Can you tell me how your schedule is divided by symphonic concerts and opera performances?
– At the very beginning I was busier in opera theatres. But then I achieved some balance between these two spheres; recently I opened the current season at Zurich Opera with a new production of Eugene Onegin directed by Barrie Kosky. This is my second production in this theatre - my debut here happened a year earlier with Queen of Spades. Aside from this, my recent opera productions are Prince Igor directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov in Amsterdam, Iolanta with Maggio Musicale in Florence, and Boris Godunov in Seoul. I adore the world of opera, and it was actually the opera Theatre which inspired me to choose my profession. I was about eleven when accidently I got on the stage of Mariinsky theatre - after an audition in the famous Glinka Capella Choir school I got the part of one of three boys in The Magic Flute. I was fascinated by the backstage life, and my friends and I would stay in theatre even after rehearsals, skipping classes… I was focused on the orchestra pit, on the conductor who used his magic baton to bring music to life, harmonizing the orchestra, soloists and choir. It was at this time when I finally realised that I wanted to be a conductor. It is one of the strongest impressions from my teenage years.
– In November you had a very interesting concert in Brussels. The virtuosity and originality of the programme that evening could compete with those which the Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra presents at its educational concerts. If I’m not mistaken, I assume that the central part of your programme features Requiem by Ligeti, correct?
– It was where it started. It was my debut with National Orchestra of Belgium, and wasn’t a typical situation: I didn’t know this orchestra, but they entrusted me with the most difficult program. The concept of the concert was related to Hungary and its musical legacy, and so the two main compositions of the evening were “Requiem” by Ligeti and “Hungarian Psalm” by Kodály with the amazing Hungarian National Choir. With this choir and orchestra will be performing “Preliminary Action” by Scriabin-Nemtin on the 16th of March 2018 in Brussels. The score of Ligeti’s “Requiem” is incredibly tricky, and I spent eleven months with it - we visited a lot of countries together.
– Why do you think Ligeti abandoned the parts Sanctus, Agnus Dei и Credo?
– This is a very interesting question, the answer to which lies in the history of the creation of this work and biography of the author. Being a Jew by origin during the Nazi occupation, he was condemned to death after surviving a terrible event – the death of half of his family in the death camps. Ligeti himself miraculously survived, thanks to some fateful coincidences. I think that the rejection of the texts, which have hope for salvation, relates to the horror he experienced. Despite the fact that twenty years passed since the horrific events before creating “Requiem”, he never found an explanation of what happened, and could not recover from the psychological trauma. There is no sense of catharsis in the end of “Requiem”.
Answering the question the internal sense of this musical work, says: "This is a Requiem for all humanity". Even Lacrimosa – which is usually the most beautiful and remarkably expressive part in Requiems by Mozart, Verdi or Britten – by Ligeti emotionless. The musical moves aimlessly as if by inertia, and the aftertaste of the “Requiem” in general is comparable to the symphonies by Shostakovich's middle period: it is the depiction of what is happening around. Ligeti invented his own language, which is both auditory and visually interesting: just look at the choir of twenty voices, organized in a technique of micropolyphony invented by the composer. However, we do not hear any strict micro-canons; the cluster of twenty voices appear to move without direction. Ligeti calls this "dynamic static". It feels as though one’s has nothing to hold onto, thus creating a phenomenally hypnotic effect on the listener. It is not a coincidence that Stanley Kubrick used the music of the Requiem as the soundtrack to his "Space Odyssey 2001" - I believe that Ligeti’s Requiem is the equivalent breakthrough as "The Rite of Spring" fifty years previously.
Stanislav Kochanovsky
"The Bells" by Rachmaninov with Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (с) Riccardo Musacchioo

– You also perform a Toccata by Bach and Fugue in D minor orchestrated by L. Stokovsky.

– My history as an organist influenced this. I was lucky to learn from the famous Nina Oksentyan, and began my acquaintance with the organ at the Glinka Capella where my teacher was Olga Minkina, so this programming choice is partly due to nostalgic feelings. Recently in Lyon I was lucky to have a few hours to play the organ Cavaillé-Coll which had been brought from Paris - this organ is very important from a historical point of view as it is the instrument on which works by Fauré, Franck and Saint-Saens were performed for the first time. I've never conducted organ works in transcription for orchestra, so it was very interesting to try to achieve the desired sound from the orchestra.
The piece which opened the concert was "Im Sommerwind" by Webern, an idyll for a large orchestra based on the poem by Bruno Wille. It is a hymn to nature, and works as an effective contrast to the very dark Requiem by Ligeti. I am interested in unexpected combinations like this.
– As for the "unexpected combinations", I can't help but wonder: how did it happen that there is Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in your program with Mikhail Pletnev on the April 30?
– This concerto was planned from the very beginning, I only had to decide on the second half of the programme. With the Russian National Orchestra we will perform Tchaikovsky’s first symphony “Winter dreams". Of course there are no hidden meanings or an “unexpected combination" here - the highlight of this evening will be the interpretation of these familiar musical works.

Stanislav Kochanovsky

In rehearsal with National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia (с) Evgeny Evtyukhov