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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Freedom in music

Concert in the cycle “Great Names,” dedicated to outstanding Ukrainian composer Valentyn Bibik (1940-2003), becomes one of the top events of the philharmonic season
24 December, 2013 - 11:19
VALENTYN BIBIK / Photo from Valentyn Bibik’s family archive

Two world premieres were performed on the stage of the Lysenko Hall of Columns by the Academic Symphony Orchestra of the National Philharmonic Society, conducted by Roman Kofman: Symbols, Concerto No. 3 for piano and chamber orchestra and Symphony for soprano and orchestra on poems by Brodsky, as well as Dedication for string orchestra and organ (performed for the first time in Kyiv).

The concert left the feeling of unperceivable mystery: how did the performers manage to paint the light and trembling of human soul with the help of music instruments and voice? It also made the audience realize that our fellow countryman Valentyn Bibik was a composer of universal scale. He was born in Kharkiv and later became a significant figure in the music world, in his last years he lived and worked in Saint Petersburg and Tel Aviv, where he was invited to teach at the local university. He was writing music non-stop for his whole life: his oeuvre includes over 150 works, which are currently performed by famous musicians at prestigious music venues of the world. Being a teacher, he created a school of his own, which has many recognized Ukrainian composers among its graduates. He has stayed in the memory of all those who knew him as a person who possessed the rarest quality of character in our time – nobleness.

The author of the project, conductor, writer, and pedagogue Roman KOFMAN answered the questions of The Day.


Why did you include Valentyn Bibik’s music in the cycle “Great Names”?

“Valentyn Bibik, in my opinion, differs from many contemporary Ukrainian composers due to his phenomenal freedom of music thinking, which is impossible to explain by words. He is absolutely free – and this is the most important thing. A free person who created in a chained country in the way his rich music soul wanted. Namely for this reason his creative work is interesting for me and I will do my best to increase his influence on the audience.

“We met in the early 1980s, when he came to listen to my performance of his Concerto No. 1 for viola and chamber orchestra. I remember that he was laconic and very principled in his requests and demands, mild and strict at the same time: some combination of shyness and strict exactingness. He seemed to feel shy, but expressed his thoughts very firmly. Later at a forum of contemporary music in Kyiv in the Opera House we performed his Seven Miniatures for string orchestra, won the first place, and this work has for a long tome remained in the repertoire of Kyiv Chamber Orchestra.

“Of course, his life far from the noise and fuss of music life had its cons, but it had pros as well. He could relatively calmly observe what was going on around him, because he was not an open dissident, he was not severely punished, like Kyiv composers. But a different way of punishment was chosen for him – the veil of silence. He perceived this very courageously, continued to work desperately, created in all genres, and left a huge heritage. The 1960s-1970s are the years of his heyday. His grandiose cycle Thirty-Four Preludes and Fugues for piano is an epochal work, which was commented by Leonid Hrabovsky in the following way: ‘I tend to think that it is the first cycle of preludes and fugues, which is so fundamental, outstanding, masterful, original, in many things innovating, since Hindemith, Shostakovich, and Shchedrin.’ And this is what American conductor Joel Sachs said about Bibik: ‘Valentyn was one of the most wonderful personalities I’ve ever known. He added something very grandiose to the general beauty of the world. Something that, we believe, will continue.’”

Please, tell us in more detail about the works of the program and the soloists.

“Young, energetic and talented Jacob Katsnelson, a Moscow pianist, Eliso Virsaladze’s pupil, performed a solo in the concert Symbols. He is prepared very well to perceive the material which is unusual for him. The things were made complicated by the fact that he could attend only one rehearsal. And after the first rehearsal with an orchestra he started to glow: ‘I finally start to understand the beauty of this music.’ However, at first he was confused by the difficulties present in this concert, not as much technical as the secrets it hides. When I was familiarizing myself with the score, I was trying to figure out the symbols, solving many conductor’s tasks. The complicated combination of orchestra and grand piano is based on such a cobweb that I needed to apply maximum attention, wit, and masterfulness.

“In the Symphony for soprano and orchestra on poems by Brodsky, a singer from Saint Petersburg Yulia Korpacheva brilliantly performed the part, which has complicated music language, is quite specific and very much differs from usual soprano parts. Besides, it has a constant emotional tension, which is connected with the text. Writing music to Brodsky’s poems is truly a task for a person free of any superstitions, fears, and doubt, because the basis of Brodsky’s poetry is not emotional, rather intellectual; the poet plays with notions, words, and senses, not colors. And music is far from the word ‘notion.’ But Bibik had luck to find a strange balance between emotio and ratio and, in my opinion, his music has spiritualized the poetry. On the one hand, the music does not sparkle with emotional effects and colorful events, and, on the other hand, it is incredibly expressive, because even such moments as composer’s technique and purely technical methods of intellectual order may become subject of poetry. Let’s take for example Stravinsky: his music is dictated by intellect, but it is very variegated, bright, emotional in its own way, because the composer’s technique has been brought up to the level of high poetry.”

It is good that the audience had texts, so they were listening and unhurriedly reading at the same time. And what an impressive final!

“Yes, the verse ‘Clouds Floating By’ (from the ‘July Intermezzo’ cycle), which crowns the Symphony, evokes a whole range of light and at the same time sad images. An autumn grove, glittering threads of rain, children’s voices heard from far away, floating clouds – an intertwining of these images in Brodsky’s poetry found a wonderful reflection in Bibik’s music.”


Bibik’s works have been performed very rarely for Ukrainian audience, so your projects, such as the production of his Run opera or the concert of “Grand Names” cycle always have an effect of discovering Bibik. But the interest to his creative work has never faded in the music world of our country; his works were performed at contemporary music festivals in Kyiv and Lviv.

“Festivals are a useful thing; I take part in them and organize them when I have an opportunity. But there is something that consciously puts a border between modern composers and broad audience. A grandiose, many-ton avalanche of contemporary music which falls on ears of inexperienced people often produces an unneeded effect, and broad audience envisages that this music should be performed not only at festivals. Therefore I support performing of best samples of music created by the youngest and most talented composers in combination with generally recognized world classic. This makes modern composers realize that they are not unnecessary, and that they are not on the marginalia of music-performing process, but that they are in the middle of this process. And the audience realizes that if a work of a young or not so young Ivanov, Petrov, or Sydorov is performed along with the works by Chopin, Grieg, Liszt, there is some sense about it, and we need to wait before denying and listen to it. When I was organizing the ‘Ukrainian Avant-Garde,’ I added my commentaries to every work, in order not to scare off the audience. And, it seems to me, I succeeded.”

You are conducting two orchestras, Kyiv Chamber Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra of the Philharmonic Society. What works will your ensembles perform this year?

“Together with the Philharmonic Society Orchestra in the cycle ‘All Symphonies by Tchaikovsky’ we will perform all seven symphonies: six numbered and the Manfred Symphony, which will be a tribute to Natan Rakhlin. Tchaikovsky’s symphonies have always been in Rakhlin’s repertoire and he glowed at these concerts. I think that Rakhlin was one of the most genius conductors not only in Ukraine, but in the world. Unfortunately, in the years of this work, creative communication with foreign countries was very limited, and he was allowed to leave the USSR only once – to the Prague Spring Festival. On January 31 at the first concert of the cycle we will perform Tchaikovsky’s symphonies No. 2 and No. 5.

“With Kyiv Chamber Orchestra, we will perform on December 29 Pachelbel’s Canon, Schubert’s Rondo for violin and orchestra, Piazzolla’s Buenos Aires Winter (soloist: Kyrylo Sharapov), Mozart’s Salzburg Symphony and Haydn’s Farewell Symphony. And on February 19 we will hold the Concert of Concerts. The program will include Bach’s Concerto for three violins and orchestra, Hendel’s concert for organ with an orchestra (soloist: director of Gdansk Philharmonic Society, Prof. Roman Perucki), Polish composer Witold Rudzinski’s Concerto for percussion and orchestra (soloist: Andrii Pushkariov) and Schnittke’s Concerto for piano and orchestra (soloist: Mykola Suk, the USA).”


In your opinion, what kind of music life will Ukraine have in the future?

“If the situation in the country remains unchanged, in the future Ukrainian music life will hardly differ from that of today, and there is no music life in Ukraine today. There are some external attributes: several orchestras which are alive and which are working well, and several hundred of people in entire Ukraine who attend the concerts.

“Workers of art have gotten accustomed to the fact that art in our country is beyond the interests of powers that be, who are very narrow-sighted and whose tastes are limited to… I won’t name the genre, but it is quite clear. Kyiv does not have any real big concert hall for symphonic music concerts. When they say that maybe some hall will be built one day, I reply: ‘They better don’t do this, because there will be another Ukraine Palace, which does not have any proper acoustics for symphonic concerts.’”

What are we supposed to do?

“We should continue our work. There is only one desire I have – that nobody impedes us, like it was in the ‘interesting’ years, when I was many times called on the carpet because I performed ‘unnecessary’ music. After the first author’s Schnittke concert I organized in Kyiv, I received a call from a referent of the Party’s Central Committee who said that Ideology Secretary wants to see me tomorrow at noon. I was young, so I replied that I was not a party member, so there was no need to call me to the Central Committee. ‘They want to talk to you; they are not calling you for report.’ I offered to arrange a meeting at a cafe or at my place. They did not phone me anymore.”

You wrote the book A Conductor and an Orchestra, in which you give “100 unnecessary recommendations for young conductors.” Did these recommendations come in handy for anyone?

“Several years ago a survey was held among the pedagogues at the National Music Academy ‘How many graduates of your class are working in profession?’ and it turned out that 100 percent of my students are working in profession. As a rule it is considered a good result when 10 out of 50 professional conductors occupy a significant place in music life. And out of my 60 or 70 students all are working in profession, though not all of them are outstanding. Although it is difficult to find a job of conductor, they include professors of our academy, chief conductors of orchestras and theaters, Donetsk and Lviv Philharmonic Societies, conductors of the National Opera of Ukraine and its chief conductor Mykola Diadiura.”

What seemed the hardest to you at the beginning?

“Everything was hard for me, but it is natural, because it is a complicated profession. And I started to conduct late, in the ensemble which was far from classical music: in the Academy of Folk Dance of Ukraine. I have worked there for 12 years, and I had a very good teacher, Pavlo Virsky. He did not have any relation to conducting, but the main principles in all kinds of art are the same, and he kept to them very firmly and severely: it was unacceptability of imperfection, unacceptability of approximation. Virsky tried to achieve this in his work – and he succeeded. And he taught me this as well.”

Your concert included two world premieres of Valentyn Bibik’s works. What is the meaning of premiere performance of a music work?

“A picture painted by an artist, even if it is not on display in a museum, is a completed act. But a score, written by a composer on paper is only a reason to perform. It needs two more components, the performer and the audience, otherwise it does not exist, it was not born. During the first performance the fact of birth of music takes place during the concert and it is always a joyful thing – this is the way the birth of a child or of a new idea rejoices us, because the initial performance is a special action of divine character, like a birth of a human being.”

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