Flowing on the waves of ‘Melodrama’

The international festival of classical music features Belarusian and international singers and gains increasing popularity in Minsk and in London each year
Talented cellist and festival organiser Aleksey Kiselev believes in the future of ‘Melodrama’The international festival of classical music features Belarusian and international singers and gains increasing popularity in Minsk and in London each year.

The first and foremost feature of real music should be its ability to generate emotions and sensuality — believe ‘Melodrama’ organisers. The festival is based on the unique synthesis of the creativity of young talented musicians and pop singers. They engage in direct dialogue with the audience.

Melodrama was a popular music genre in the last third of the 18th century — a link between music and drama. Of course, it now encompasses other aspects, being an intellectual dialogue between cultures, composers, musicians and audiences.

This spring, Minsk hosted the first night of the ‘Melodrama’ festival, although the tradition began in the UK. Participants were welcomed warmly, with Belarusian classical musicians visiting London in May. Festival organiser and art director Aleksey Kiselev, a famous cellist, studied music in London and Minsk and is now a post-graduate of the Royal College of Music.

“During the festival, we invited the audience to appreciate the genre of melodrama,” notes Mr. Kiselev. “The idea of the festival is highlighted in the epigraph: ‘We strive for natural music expressiveness closely connected with the ideas of drama…’. It has a diverse and excellent program.”

Undoubtedly, the Minsk International Festival is a wonderful musical and cultural event. In addition to the famous Belarusian musician, the festival program included performances by French musicians and gave young and talented musicians from Belarus the chance to make a statement in the world of music. Graduates of the Republican Music College joined those from the Belarusian Music Academy and laureates and scholarship holders of the Special Fund of the President of the Republic of Belarus for Talented Youngsters. Mr. Kiselev is also a scholarship holder of this fund.

Aleksey was born in Minsk and, when he was just five years old, he began studying at the Republican College of Music at the Belarusian State Academy of Music. He was lucky enough to be taught by the Honoured Artist of Belarus Vladimir Perlin. He began giving concerts, performing at college and on the famous stages of Minsk — at the Opera Theatre, the Philharmonic Hall, the Chamber Hall and on Russian theatre stages and at the Russian Music Academy.

Later, Aleksey began touring abroad and became a highly praised soloist with the Chamber Orchestra of the Music College — under the baton of Vladimir Perlin. He performed throughout Germany, Holland, the UK and France and is now a soloist with the State Chamber and Symphony Orchestra.

In 1997, Aleksey took part in the greatest world music contest — the 3rd International Youth Contest (named after P.I. Tchaikovsky). Aged 12, he was named ‘Student of the Year’ in Belarus and claimed the prize of the Special Fund of Vladimir Spivakov. His performances in joint French and Belarusian concerts in 1998 were a great success in Minsk and in Paris — playing in such famous concert halls as the Corto and Trianon theatres.

In September 2003, he took part in a concert with the Haverhill Symphonic, winning a prize for the ‘Best Performance of British Music’. The following years were filled with solo concerts and performances with chamber music ensembles in Holland, France, Germany, Belarus and the UK. Again and again, Aleksey was invited to take part in International Music Festivals — such as Aix En Provence Festival, Musicamundi Festival, Les Vacance Des Monsieur Haydn, Cello Master-classes and concerts and the Yuri Bashmet International Festival. He used to work with the cello octet ‘Conjuncto lberico’ touring with them in Europe and the United States of America. Last March, Mr. Kiselev opened his first international festival of classical music — ‘Melodrama’ — in London.

You are the creator of the festival. What made you realise that people would be interested and did you foresee it becoming the greatest event in the musical and cultural life of our country?

Some years ago, the idea came to mind after my work with my teacher — famous French cellist Jйrфme Perno — a professor of the Royal College of Music of the UK. He is now a professor at the Paris National Conservatoire and organises a similar festival in France. I thought, “Why not create such an event in Minsk — connected with art and the talented performers I’ve worked with”. I undertook some concerts with the Presidential Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus. In Europe, I managed to perform and work with a number of famous musicians involved in chamber and symphonic music. I was absorbed by the idea of the theatrical spirit of the festival, seeing music as a form of communication. I think that, onstage, musicians become something more; they are actors — like those on stage. Eventually, I found a team of people who think the same way.

Basically, the festival is a combination of musical ideas and melodrama. Minsk has never seen such a show. To tell the truth, my idea was to attract audiences with the novelty of this phenomenon. During organisation, we experimented with lighting and our commentator used improvisation. Many professional Belarusian music experts helped me, drawing on their experience. We can learn so much from foreign organisations; arriving in London, I began to think of taking some courses myself!

As far as I understand, modern Belarusian musical education is like that of Europe?

Let me take the example of the Republican College of Music at the Belarusian State Academy of Music. My personal opinion is that it is a real music treasury, becoming increasingly famous abroad. Think of Vladimir Perlin’s students Kirill Zlotnikov, Nikolay Gimaledinov (who was just 8 years old when he first played in front of the Patriarch of Rome in the Vatican) and Mikhail Samsonov (winner of the All-Union contest). Another example is the Lyceum Chamber Orchestra, which performed at the final concert of the ‘Melodrama’ event in London. It was not the only performance in the UK; they conducted three tours of the whole country.

Why did you choose London?

I’ve been studying there since 2003.

Last year, the Chamber Orchestra performed within the framework of the ‘Melodrama’ festival?

Yes — we began last year and the festival is now a major musical event.

So, what was the audience reaction last year?

Quite positive. It motivated us to develop our ideas and present them as they are today.

The Minsk festival must be mostly represented by Belarusian musicians?

Of course; my idea is to prove that Belarusian experience meets international levels.

Aleksey, you are quite young. What kind of audience do you hope to attract, prepared to appreciate classical music?

Our festival is a musical project and, unfortunately, the younger generation tends not to appreciate such music. My aim is to attract younger people to the festival. I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time. Sooner or later, youngsters will be filling our classical concert halls. Today, we attract mostly 40-somethings but I’d love to develop young people’s cultural, intellectual side through classical music.

So, you searched for ideas that could be interesting to young people?

Yes, this is one of the aims of our project.

It may take some time for young people to turn to classical music.

I hope my own youth will inspire others.

Do classical audiences in France and the UK differ much from those in Belarus?

I don’t think so. I’m sure that love for classical music is a matter of age and life experience. Professional Belarusian musicians are well-trained and well-educated — as are our audiences.

Are Belarusian audiences demanding — like western audiences?

I think that we are even more critical in respect of performing musical arts.

Why is that?

I don’t want to offend foreign audiences but I think Slavic people have a different spirit.

What made you choose the cello?

When you are five years old, it’s quite difficult to choose your future. I’m grateful to my parents. Vladimir Perlin, my father, taught me until I was 12 years old — when I won a prize at the Tchaikovsky Youth Concert in St. Petersburg. He told me to grasp the opportunity and I knew, even at that age, that I’d regret quitting. Now, I’m 100% sure that music is my destiny.

Is it hard to become a musician?

Naturally, it’s a difficult path for which you need patience.

As far as I understand, your parents were keen to see you become a musician.

You are right… but I became determined myself as time went by. At 18, I graduated from college and began studying in London for three years. I had the opportunity to stay in Germany, but French cellist Jйrфme Perno invited me to London to become his student. I couldn’t refuse, being a fan. He has been a teacher of music and of life. I’m convinced that, to be a musician is to be a philosopher; our profession is similar to that of being a writer, observing life and writing about it. We are mediators between composers and audiences, decoding the music and interpreting it. We must not lose anything significant and know that we cannot deceive our audience. Actually, I most value amateur opinions — since they are objective.

We conduct a dialogue between composers and audiences; I, the performer, talk to the audience. If we lose interest, we should really leave the stage. We create a certain mood — an energy link — and, of course, every person in the hall has their own mood. It’s my job to let them go home feeling inspired. You don’t need special education to understand that education has little to do with emotional response.

Do you see yourself as a professional or are you still learning?

It’s quite hard to talk about your own abilities — as the sky’s the limit. Music is immortal — part of human life. The very thought of searching for something new inspires me. I don’t ever want to stop learning.

Are you going to organise more festivals in future?

Certainly, I’m going to work out a project, introduce some changes and continue. I want the ‘Melodrama’ festival to be held annually, here in Minsk — my home city. It’s the greatest pleasure to hear “thank you” from your fellow-countrymen.

What are the development trends for classical music today? Are they changing with time?

Of course, it’s quite hard to talk about the future, since it depends mostly on composers — although there are various trends. In France, two performances by modern composers have taken place. Guillaume Konis wrote a cello concert, performed to acclaim in Paris. Music has its own policy. Pierre Boulez is conservative and won’t allow young composers to develop their own way but, sooner or later, the situation will change. Composers can’t help expressing themselves and there are a number of ways for them to express their musical experiments. Classical music can go hand in hand with electronic music, using computers effects. Personally, I prefer acoustic music. I adore late 20th century composers like Schnittke, Shostakovich and Prokofiev; they are legendary. It’s tricky to pigeon-hole modern music. Everything needs to settle down — as before. Few composers find popularity until after their death.

I should admit that there is a certain pop note in classical music these days. For our first concert, we performed Beethoven and a Mendelssohn octet. It was ‘light’ music (also known as ‘bubblegum music’). Mendelssohn was just 16 when he wrote it, and you can feel the scent of youth.

What advice would you give to our Belarusian musicians?

We need to move onto the world stage, taking a leading position and developing our own Belarusian culture. We’ll welcome famous musicians — the more the better. Some think that they’ll meet uncritical audiences in Belarus — but they are very wrong.

Were you concerned more with the festival as a whole or with your own performance?

Good question. You know, it’s quite difficult to combine creative work and management; these are different sides of the creative process. I can hardly combine them. Organising the concert took a great deal of time. Our project is the result of nine months of work. I’ve had to give myself wholeheartedly to the project. Management is a new area for me and I’m glad that everything has come out right. Of course, I gain real pleasure from stage performing too.

Who assisted you in the process of management?

Actually, some of the work has been performed voluntarily, with the help of the Ministry of Culture and the Belarusian Embassy of the UK. Our project is in its early days but we hope to see it become larger one day. We aim to reach the professional contest level of Yuri Bashmet’s festivals and believe it to be possible.

The idea that music is extending its horizons is applicable to our festival. It’s popular — with fans here in Belarus and in the UK. This cultural community has musical interests and cultural wealth and the festival’s geography could be further developed; we certainly hope so.

Viktor Mikhailov
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