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Stanislav Kochanovsky: "A symphony orchestra is a whole world"

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ClassicalMusicNews.Ru Nov 2020, by Tatyana Plyushchay
Photo (с) Evgeny Evtyukhov
TP - Stanislav, you are in St. Petersburg. How does St. Petersburg feel?
SK - Life goes on, no matter what ... People are trying to gradually adapt to the new reality. I am glad that musical life in St. Petersburg is still moving: the Mariinsky Theater regularly hosts performances on three stages, and both orchestras work in the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.
TP - Going back in time, how did you quarantine?
SK - Quarantine found me at home. I returned from Norway - this was the last concert abroad before the announcement of the total closure of all borders. I was preparing for opera "Samson and Delilah" at the Mariinsky Theater, but on the very day of my performance, March 18, in St. Petersburg everything stopped ... When it became clear that nothing would happen in the near future, I began to study with great interest those scores that had once bought or wanted to learn for a long time. For example, I have never conducted any of Glazunov's and Myaskovsky's symphonies. It seemed strange to me that today practically no one plays this music at all - neither in Russia nor in the West. I listened to many different recordings, in different performances, chose the ones that I would like to play. I was thinking about possible programs. My fuse lasted for about two weeks ... At some point, I realized that in the near future there would definitely not be any concerts, and I completely gave myself to my family and children. We went out of town, I didn't take a single score with me. We spent an absolutely wonderful month in isolation in nature, on the shore of a lake near St.Petersburg. It was an amazing discovery for me that a time without music can also be absolutely wonderful... 
However, after a month something was missing ... I went home to get scores and, no longer hurrying, in a free mode - combining with walks, picking mushrooms and boating - slowly began to study new works and operas for me. Since the concert season is scheduled for several years ahead, there are always some new music that need to be learned. And these five months without concerts were just the perfect time to prepare future programs.
TP - Start concerts and rehearsals again after such a long break ... Has your perception of concerts changed, perhaps something has changed in the very approach to working with musicians, the orchestra?
SK - After almost six months of silence, which I think was extremely useful (in every sense), I'm sure all the musicians missed each other a lot! Especially for live music making. Now every concert and every rehearsal, every meeting with musicians on stage and joint creativity have acquired a special extraordinary value. Of course, for me, even before the pandemic, any performance on stage was an event, regardless of where it took place: in a small Russian town or in Vienna, Paris, St.Petersburg or Moscow - this is always a huge responsibility. But today, when we seem to be in a war zone, when every day you hear that part of the orchestra is sick here, half of the choir is on sick leave - the value of each musical evening has greatly increased! I believe that "music therapy", which Denis Matsuev often repeats, really exists! It is very important that classical music continues to sound! All musical organizations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and in Europe (I observed this myself) really make every effort to ensure that all precautions are observed: masks, distance, etc.
I can say with confidence that concert halls and opera houses are certainly not the most dangerous places, and even more so when compared with public transport - with planes and trains that are 100% full. I recently flew to Switzerland in a huge Boeing - there were 480 passengers on board, there was not a single free seat. Everything functions as before. Yes, people wear masks, everything is disinfected, but these are much more dangerous places than concert halls.
TP - Under the new conditions, you performed in Russia and in Europe. How do you feel: where you feel more despondency, sadness in the atmosphere?
SK - In concert halls there is no despondency! People yearn to return to concerts and performances, people yearn for live performances. During the total lockdown, the Internet was overloaded with all sorts of broadcasts, attempts to play something in a quartet or quintet from a distance, or to record fragments from large symphonies with whole orchestras. It was all very nice and touching, creative people needed to do something, so, of course, it was important. But after a week or two, most of my friends, acquaintances, and I myself stopped watching these broadcasts. The most famous opera houses and orchestras posted so many recordings of all kinds at once that the uniqueness of the content was greatly depreciated. And when theaters and concert halls finally opened, according to my observations, the audience again went to concerts and performances with great interest. Perhaps at first someone was afraid, someone is still afraid. But most people just calmly returned to theaters and concert halls!
In October I miraculously managed to travel outside our country and hold concerts in the three largest European capitals in Bern, Paris and Vienna. At that time there was a limit of 1000 spectators, and the halls were filled everywhere! In November in Frankfurt, we played with the radio orchestra in an empty hall with broadcasts on the Internet and on the radio. Obviously, we need to find an opportunity to continue existing in the new reality. It is already clear that it is impossible to simply lock everyone in their homes. There is no solution yet, we are waiting for the vaccine.
TP - We are talking to you after your first concert with MSSO. Share your impressions of working with a new orchestra for you.
SK - I have conducted many Moscow orchestras, but this is the first time I have worked with this orchestra. The first meeting with a new team is always very exciting. After five to seven minutes, as a rule, it is already clear what kind of orchestra is in front of you. Likewise, from the opposite side - the orchestra, like X-rays, shines through the conductor, and everything is clear to everyone by the end of the first hour. This is chemistry - it is either there or it is not, and the rest of the process depends on it/. It seems to me that this chemistry was with MSSO! We had a very productive rehearsal days, there was a very good creative spirit. Everyone tried very hard, there was a wonderful program, the result was very, very good. I enjoyed it a lot. It's nice that almost complete orchestra came to my dressing room after the concert - this does not happen so often! I will gladly return to this team in March 2021!
After the concert with Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, photo (c) Evgeny Evtyukhov
TP - If we talk about the first meeting of the conductor and the orchestra, it really takes five to seven minutes to understand: is there mutual love or not?
SK - Mutual love, probably, comes later, I'm talking about chemistry, when it is obvious to everyone that the conductor's energy gets the opposite answer, there is a return from the orchestra, which wants to interact and trusts the conductor. This, as a rule, is clear to everyone at once.
TP - Can professionalism help out if there is a mismatch?
SK - Certainly. I have had cases when chemistry did not work out ... or when people completely lack any desire to play music. The musicians seem to be playing the right notes, outwardly everything looks good - even the concert itself can end up being great. But there is no spark that gives rise to the miracle of joint co-creation at the highest artistic level. It is quite possible that the majority of the audience (and maybe all the audience) will not even notice that something is wrong, that there were heavy rehearsals, there was some misunderstanding or the orchestra does not like this maestro. Naturally, during a concert, both the orchestra and the conductor want to create a good atmosphere and play well, no one wants to look bad in front of the audience. 
The orchestra will play to the best of its ability, and the conductor will help. But further - there is a question of the second and subsequent invitations. My London agent often repeated that it was only after the third invitation to the same band that it was safe to say that your relationship with the orchestra had developed. Getting the first engagement is a great piece of luck, luck, coincidence of circumstances, or, perhaps, a reward for winning some international competition. But the second and, in particular, the third invitation is already a real test: if the orchestra wants to see this maestro again, and also vice versa: if the maestro wants to return to this orchestra. It also happens that the orchestra would like to invite the conductor again, but for one reason or another he does not want to return. This sometimes happens and is not connected either with the quality of the orchestra, or with the professionalism of the conductor, who may be famous, successful and in demand, but he did not have a relationship with this particular orchestra. The conductor and the orchestra - like two charged charges of the same sign - do not attract or, if you like, repel each other.
TP - Several years ago I read an interview with the impresario, from which I very well remember the words that a musician cannot influence the "caste" into which he falls. He goes on stage, does his job, and the rest depends on his talent and uniqueness. Do you think a musician can go beyond what is intended for him? Relatively speaking: communicating with the right people, cooperating with a good agency, promoting himself competently on social networks, can a musician get better concerts than he possibly deserves? Can he influence the choice offered to him?
SK - Today anything is possible ... Everyone has its own way! I am sure that time puts everything in its place. But there is a huge danger when a young and immature talent is pressed too sharply, starting to promote it too actively. The person turns out to be not ready or simply does not yet correspond to the level at which they are trying to put him - sooner or later it ends very badly, the fall is inevitable. I still believe in the honesty of our business, because it is always very noticeable when someone is specially promoted. When a dubious soloist or conductor is assigned to the orchestra for a wonderful tour, this does not give anyone pleasure. But if they refuse, the orchestra may not go on tour. The choice is up to the chief conductor.
TP - The common thread is the history of the ascent of new stars after they were offered to replace famous musicians. I have always considered such a "chance" a pattern, a well-deserved chance.
SK - Yes, this is a classic scenario for a young conductor. I got such a chance in April 2014, when I replaced Yuri Khatuyevich Temirkanov. This was my first serious debut in Europe - in Rome with the Orchestra of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia. I will never forget this program: selection from Boris Godunov with Evgeny Nikitin as Boris and Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. Three unforgettable concerts that passed for me like in a dream. I must say right away that in December 2021, the sixth program is planned with this renowned team. It was the same chemistry from the very first moment!
Concert in Rome, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (с) Riccardo Musacchio
TP - Continuing the theme of management and promotion. Stanislav, do you run social networks?
SK - Yes of course.
TP - At your own will or on the advice of management - giving, so to speak, a tribute to time and reality?
SK - This is my personal desire, no one forces me. Friends joke that if they don’t post a photo after the concert, then the concert would not happen at all... Nowadays it is customary to maintain an account in social networks, but I need them first of all in order to quickly and easily find the person I need. It is very convenient, and nothing better has been invented yet.
TP - I don’t know if you will agree with me that sometimes people spend much more strength and energy on reminding themselves through social networks than actually on what they should remember and know about. I'm not just talking about musicians. How did people live, rehearse, conductors made brilliant recordings before the Internet era? It seems to me that such recordings will no longer be, because a little bit energy is spent on secondary things.
SK - Our whole life is often spent on secondary things... The worst thing is that social networks eat up a huge amount of time and, perhaps, even too tightly entered our daily life. Of course, there are artists who do not have any personal accounts on social networks, but their page is maintained by an agent or a special PR service.
TP - Stanislav, you are thirty-nine years old - are you a young conductor? And in general, is the "young conductor" about age or experience? How do you define this question for yourself?
SK - I don't know, I've already resigned myself (smiles). Twenty years old - a young conductor, thirty - a young conductor. In a year it will be forty, I think they will still write: a young conductor. Honestly, it doesn't bother me at all, young - and young, it's great!
TP - I remember once they shared on facebook: if they write on the posters: “Laureate of all-Russian and international competitions,” then the musician still needs to be introduced. It is difficult to imagine a poster with an inscription: the laureate of international competitions Mikhail Pletnev is speaking. Conductor with the prefix "young" - as if about that too.
SK - A young conductor... if a conductor looks good, is smart - let them write: a young conductor. They write well, but when they do not write anything at all, it is possible that something is wrong. Probably, at the age of forty-five it is already strange to write - a young conductor. Wait and see! (smiles). Conducting, as Maestro Temirkanov said, is the profession of the second half of his life. What to do in the first half? Just wait until you're not young? You have to work, gain life experience. Each rehearsal, each meeting with the orchestra is an endless process of improvement that lasts a lifetime. A well-known piece, performed many times, is still revealed in a new way every time you refer to it. Otherwise, you will look at him in ten or twenty years. This is the beauty of this mysterious profession - endless improvement until the very last day!
Concert in Moscow, photo (c) Evgeny Evtyukhov
TP - We talked about the chances, opportunities that fate gives a person, and sometimes it is impossible to refuse. Do you yourself regret more what you did or what you didn’t do?
SK - It seems to me that it is simply stupid to regret something or not to regret... To have time to do everything we have planned, our life is so short that there is simply no time to regret anything there. My philosophy is simple: whatever is done is for the best! I never tried to ask anyone for anything and stubbornly walked towards my goal. If something hasn't happened somewhere - no need to kill yourself, you have to move on, something better is waiting ahead! And to regret something, and even more so to worry about imperfect - this, in my opinion, is the last thing. Now I am so busy with my favorite profession, I have been actively conducting the last eleven years (in 2008 I graduated from the conservatory and already worked in the theater, then for five years I had been the chief conductor in Kislovodsk) and I can say that I have no free minute to sit and suffer for what something about. All the time you have to learn something new, come up with new programs, prepare for a tour or new performances. All my life is in music and in the family. Life boils and boils - there is always something to do.
TP - At one time I was convinced that a chance that did not happen again is not a chance at all, as Nietzsche said: "Once is the same as never." As well as a unique meeting, it means that fate has decided so.
SK - Maybe. But any chance and what is called "luck" is preceded by a huge amount of work. The one who worked hard, that chance falls - I am convinced of this. Therefore, only those who are ready for this “gift of fate” will be able to use this chance, “being in the right place at the right time”.
TP - Russian conductors are often asked what is the difference between Russian orchestras and European ones. I will reformat the question a little: what was your first impression of working with foreign orchestras? I think after the first concerts this difference was especially noticeable.
SK - This difference did not disappear anywhere either after the first or after the fiftieth concert in different countries. Everywhere there are small nuances and peculiarities, but the main difference between the devices of our society as a whole. In Europe, relationships in the orchestra, as in society, are built on mutual respect. In a serious European orchestra, no one will allow themselves to come to a rehearsal without looking at the material in advance. The discipline during the rehearsal is much higher, the musicians of the orchestra do not allow themselves to talk when the conductor is explaining something. People are almost never late. But the conductor also has no right to overexpose the musicians beyond the established rehearsal time, will not shout at the orchestra, etc.
There is also a global difference in education - orchestral musicians are trained in Europe. In Russia, everyone is still taught as soloists, and many join the orchestra because they failed to become a soloist. Although it is quite obvious that out of a hundred violinists, and maybe out of a thousand, only one will become a soloist. But they have been taught to play solo all their lives, set up for a solo career. It turns out that, once in the orchestra, a person is just beginning to learn to exist in it. But being able to play in an orchestra is a very difficult task. In the West, the learning process itself is set up to prepare you to play in an orchestra, teach you to play in an ensemble: the quality of the stroke, how to make you not stand out from other colleagues in the group - if we are talking about strings. It is well known that many of our string players, having continued their studies in Europe, were extremely saddened that they had to attend the student orchestra in addition to their solo studies with the professor. You simply cannot skip the orchestra rehearsals there.
Our system has advantages, of course. The string group will sound significantly richer and more juicy if everyone plays with a solo serve, and not only tries to perfectly match each other. This is very good for Russian romantic music, but on the other hand it creates a lot of difficulties in the performance of Viennese classics.
When I flew from St. Petersburg to Amsterdam for my first concert with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, by chance, I met Maris Arvidovich Jansons in the waiting room of Pulkovo airport. I shared with him that in a week I will debut with his orchestra. We talked a lot about Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, and at the very end Maris Avidovich said (he was talking about the Concertgebouw Orchestra):
"I want to tell you the following thing: do not be upset if it seems to you that they are cold, that they have an incomprehensible emotional reaction, it does not mean anything at all. They are so neat, reserved people, they will never show you their emotions right away. They will play very well, try very hard, but you will be the last to know how they really treat you."
This was the parting words of Mariss Jansons after many years of working with this renowned orchestra. A week later, my debut went absolutely wonderful, it turned out to be a wonderful, lively and very friendly team. We immediately developed a very warm relationship. After the second rehearsal, their famous viola accompanist Ken Hakii came down to my conductor's room (he began working in the orchestra in 1985, became accompanist in 1992) and said very touchingly: “I would like to thank you for being worked with us for real ! ” Hearing this from one of the oldest musicians of the orchestra, who had the opportunity to play music with the best conductors and soloists of the planet over all these years ... It was, of course, extremely pleasant!
Concert in Amsterdam Concertgebouw, photo (с) Simon Van Boxtel
TP - Before the interview with you, I reviewed the documentary about Karajan "Beauty as I see it." In one episode, Karajan says that at some point, the piano was not enough for him to express himself, and he began to engage in conducting and an orchestra. We can say that for Karajan the orchestra was a means of self-expression, and what about the orchestra for you?
SK - For me, an orchestra is a gigantic colorful palette with which you can create extraordinary pictures here and now. A symphony orchestra is a whole world, a huge wealth! Each orchestra, also like my first instrument, an organ, is a unique and inimitable organism. An organ is always built for a specific place - a church or a concert hall, it is unique, it cannot be simply copied mechanically and put the same somewhere else. It will naturally sound different, because the acoustics of the place will be different - the same with the orchestra. But if the organ, despite all the complexity of its design, is ultimately trumpets and keys, then with the orchestra everything is much more difficult: these are living people and this should never be forgotten. You don't play the orchestra, conducting is a constant dialogue with live musicians, which does not stop even at the moment of a concert. Everything seems to be rehearsed and follows a predetermined path. But moments of live spontaneous improvisation (of course, within the framework indicated by the composer) are the subtlest vibrations of the soul that occur only at live concerts with the public and only with the absolute trust and respect of the orchestra for the conductor and the conductor for the musicians - this is the miracle of joint co-creation. 
TP - If you could choose a profession for your next life, which one would you choose?
SK - I do not know. The next life will come - then we'll see.
Interviewed by Tatyana Plyushchay. 
Nov 2020.