Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists will be performing at the Esplanade on the 25th May 2012. Yuri Bashmet was hailed as “world’s best living musician” by the British Times and the “greatest viola player of the modern times” by The New York Times while his Moscow Soloists ensemble have won a Grammy Award.
I sent some questions to Yuri Bashmet to learn more of the violist and now I am sharing his reply.
Are you inspired by the musical talents of your family or were you groomed for it?
My parents were not musicians. When I was young, I lived in Rostov-on-Don, a city riddled with crime. My mother was worried and insisted on me doing extra classes after school instead. A violin then was the cheapest instrument we could find and it was decided that I play it for my extra curriculum. That is how I started.
Of all the musical instruments, why did you choose the viola?
I was at a music school playing the violin and I turned out to be the best violinist in school. However, it was during the time when The Beatles was really popular and I actually preferred playing the guitar!
In the end, I changed to playing the viola as I had a friend who suggested: “You would make a talented viola player – you would need much less time to practise, because if you continue with your violin you will need five, six, seven hours of practice a day; with the viola you will need much less time, and then you will have more time for your guitar!”
This is how I started playing the viola.
How effective is the viola at interpreting emotions – sad, cheerful, angry, sombre?
For me, the viola is the closest instrument to the human voice. I play the viola a lot precisely because, for me, this instrument and its tone can transfer any human feeling or emotion.
If you look at the names of instruments in Italian, then viola is viola, violin – violina (small viola) and cello – violoncello (big viola). That means that for the Italians, who created all the stringed instruments in the form in which we play them today, viola was the center of all instruments. And for me it is the heart of the music.
Are there any warm-up viola tunes you used to get into the frame of mind, before any performance or was it something that you do?
I have no special warm-up tunes . I’d rather just start playing immediately, doing my best at the same time, to bring my hands, muscles, hearing, and all the senses into “concert” condition. It is important to focus both emotionally and physically.
How was the transition like – from being a violist to a conductor?
When I transited from being just a violist to becoming a conductor, my way of thinking in music began to change a little because I started to understand the scores better than I did before. I’m able to hear why and what happened, and in what way.
The reasons I began conducting was because there wasn’t enough viola repertoire around. I can only do so many pieces whenever I go on tours to perform. Viola repertoires are also not the most popular or familiar pieces that people will usually hear. I didn’t want to keep repeating and I knew I had to do something. That was how the Moscow Soloists was formed and how I began conducting.
What are the challenges you faced while forming the Moscow Soloists?
I created the Moscow Soloists during a very difficult time for Russia. The country has only just begun restructuring and she was still really bad with money. Musicians, both well-known and the young ones mostly went abroad. But Nina Dorliak, Richter’s wife, spoke to me and told me something like: “Yuri, young musicians need you, your support, and your attention. Create a new ensemble from the best of all the students and graduates in the Moscow Conservatory to try and keep young talented people in the country. It is so important to the Russian culture and mostly importantly, to you.”
I thought about it and realised she was incredibly right. So I did it and despite all the difficulties in the past 20 years, I’ve never regretted it.
What is the most difficult score that you have played?
This is a very interesting question. Personally, the question of complexity is not always, but rather rarely, a question of technology. For me, probably the main task is to dive into the world of the composer who wrote the music and to search what the composer wanted to convey with his music: emotions, colors, condition, etc. After grasping the full intent and idea of the composer, I will begin passing the work through myself so as to feel the senses and emotions which the composer was thinking about.
Sometimes, there are some works of Mozart much more complicated than the most complex music of the 20th century …
Each work is difficult in its own way. I cannot say that this or that work is especially difficult for me or on the contrary especially easy!
What are your aspirations or hopes for the future of viola playing?
What is really important is the awareness. The more people know about it, the higher the chance is, for people to want to start playing viola. In my opinion, the standard of violists has vastly. There are some gifted, up and coming violists nowadays. These new people are a real testament to the growing popularity of classical music and of viola playing.
Yuri Bashmet & the Moscow Soloists concert is proudly sponsored by global energy company, Gazprom, and for more information, please visit http://bashmetinsingapore.com/