We got a chance to talk with Yuri Bashmet right after his performance at the railway station of the resort town of Adler in Russia. The idea to perform classical music at a venue like that might have come across as strange for someone, but as Basmet explained us later on, his whole life is connected to railway stations, being on the road and with the subtle experiences of meetings and partings.
We are not going to go deeper into enumeration of all Yuri Bashmet’s achievements in development of both Russian and worldwide classical music, as it could take forever. Although it is not the first we encounter this phenomena, it still comes with a pleasant surprise: talented is who talented does . Bashmet’s talent is stretching over all the areas – work, communication, love.
The short, but very engaging and sincere interview which he managed to give to the Youth Time Magazine just a few hours before the final rehearsal of the Sochi Olympics’ official closing ceremony, speaks best for Bashmet and his multifaceted personality of an actor, conductor, teacher and People’s Artist.
This is the description Yuri Bashmet gave himself on one of the popular blogging services in Russia:
Yuri Bashmet is the first musician in the history of the world music who managed to introduce alto as a solo instrument. The events, determinative to his career, happened by chance in his life. He joined the alto class because the violin class was full. He first conducted an orchestra when he was substituting for Valery Gergiev who got sick. Bashmet founded a chamber ensemble “The Moscow Soloists” and became the head for the symphony orchestra “The new Russia”. Bashmet finds time to manage his own department at the Conservatory, to curate competitions and festivals, to tour the world. A sincere patriot, always wearing black and fond of his rock’n’roll youth roots, he consideres himself a happy person, since he is doing the thing he loves.
What is it about the railway station? This is not the first time you have performed in venues like these.
This is quite interesting to discuss. To begin with, my late dad used to work at the Volga Railway Design Institute. He was a deputy director, because he could not be a director considering his listing in the fifth column (editor’s note – the fifth column in the USSR meant the obligatory indication of nationality on a passport. People of some nationalities, including Jews, during the Stalinist regime were typically not allowed to control strategic enterprises). Much later I had my own festival in Germany, at the train station in the city Rolandseck in a picturesque location near Bonn and Cologne: the Rhine River, low mountains. I played a recital there with Richter, and after that I was offered a chance to play in festivals there. I played at the Rolandseck station ten or twelve years in a row. And the history of the place is unique. There is a mirror-glass building; sometimes trains rush past while there is a concert in the waiting hall. I got interested in the history of the place and it turned out that Brahms, Schumann and his wife Clara Wieck Schumann, a famous pianist, had performed there. So for me these performances seem natural and so we did it with the Railways (Editor’s note – Russian Railways).
Why did these famous musicians play at railway stations? It is rather symbolic, isn’t it?
I think partly it is. The station is an extension of psychic territory. It is not only about the situation “late, on time, ran, left, arrived.” It has yet another aspect which is rarely spoken about but is very much present. For example, someone sees off another person: what is the state of mind of the man who left or of the one who had escorted him? It is this perspective which is not always taken into account in the literal sense of what the station is. Train stations are soulful and there are a lot of such things: someone meets in the train; someone likes to go to the restaurant there. When I have a choice to go by train or to fly somewhere in Russia, for example, from Moscow to St Petersburg or from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod, I definitely choose the train, because I know that after a crazy day I’ll be calm there. The train offers a pleasant lack of freedom, that is, I can’t jump out of the train and can’t change my mind. I go to the restaurant, and in the restaurant I choose the simplest menu. Often, for example, I simply want fries. If this is understood from a spiritual perspective, it is quite natural that stations are often chosen as sites for exhibitions and concerts. In earlier times Schubert or Brahms, for sure, went somewhere and gave concerts along their way. And if the station has a wonderful and beautiful hall as in Rolandseck then it is quite possible to sleep well in the guest rooms. For example, I always lived at the station during the festival and I can imagine that a carriage transported Paganini and he also stayed somewhere similar. Your magazine is distributed in the Czech Republic. I was in Carlsbad, and in fact it was there at the station that the premiere of the symphony “From the New World” was held (Editor’s note – last and most famous Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, written in 1893 and one of the most frequently performed works in the world repertoire). Secondly, there is a very beautiful wooden parquet-floored hall, where Paganini himself gave a concert.
You’ve mentioned that you have a concept of “pleasant non-freedom” in your life. What is it and how do you describe this condition?
Well, the highest manifestation is when the husband and the wife are actually lovers. They have aspirations respecting each other, but there is also a stamp in the passport. If they want to be together, they are together, but they are still husband and wife.
What do you think about femininity and the role of woman?
I’d rather tell you a funny story. We had a show dedicated to March 8. I asked all guests an obvious question: “How do you feel about women and what kind of phenomenon are they?” Daneliya, the famous Russian film director, told me: “Yuri, you know that I have a granddaughter. She is five years old and I spend 2-3 hours once a week on Sundays with her. We go to the circus or do something like that. Once we decided to go to the Moscow Zoo. We followed the signs; in one part of the zoo were birds and monkeys. We went almost halfway and there was a sign that said ‘Predators.’” Daneliya then went on to say: “I thought: Well, why should a girl go there?” I offered her ice cream, she agreed and we went back. As we walked further, she suddenly stopped and said, “Grandpa, why didn’t we go in that direction?” Daneliya told her that was because there were evil animals in that part of the zoo, predators who eat each other. He tried to dissuade her: “You don’t need to look at them.” And she answered: “But they have not seen me!” “That’s what I think of women,” said Daneliya to me.
While working with the Youth Symphony Orchestra you have to spend a lot of time with young people. What can you say about the current young generation?
If I had never met the young people here in the orchestra, I would succumb to the belief that everything is bad now. But as I know them personally and I can tell you that in this sense things are not bad at all, especially since no one got there on recommendation or by appointment. Those who won our qualifying competitions throughout Russia are now playing in this orchestra. This is the first time in the history of our country, which is very important. The father of Russian film director Nikita Mikhalkov, the famous children’s writer Sergey Mikhalkov, in response to a silly question by a young journalist, who emphasized that he was only a children’s poet, replied: “Today they are children and tomorrow they are the people. Goodbye.” And he left. No way to put it better! In my orchestra boys and girls already go hand in hand. They’ve met each other here. One is from Cheboksary and another one is from Samara, for example. Maybe they will become a family and therefore their children will be engaged in music. My Mom and Dad were musical, but no one was a professional musician. My Mom really wanted me to be into something. She tried to involve me in painting and something else, but at the same time she pushed me out to the street when I was playing violin: “Go for a walk. Come back when you get hungry, eat and then if you want to you can play.” On the one hand, she forced me to do something, and on the other – gave me some time to rest. As Peter Stolarski, after whom the famous music school in Odessa is named, said: “I do not want talented kids. I need talented mothers!” And my Mom is an example of this approach. Later I had my own band, I played the guitar at one time and for Mom I went to school with a violin. She started to worry. When I grew up, I told my parents that I really needed a good electric guitar. My mother asked what would happen to my violin. I promised her to devote one more hour to playing violin every day. That’s it. Now my daughter is a fine pianist and her son, my grandson, who is now 7 years old, has already played 3 times with me as a soloist in the Moscow Philharmonic and the Moscow Conservatory. He loves this thing.
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