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In a word — a master!

Famous Belarusian singer, People’s Artist of Belarus Nikolay Skorikov is 55! The powerful bass-baritone has enjoyed a life so far filled with wild, mystical coincidences and much deserved recognition. The ‘Belarusian Magomayev’ has style and charm and remains slim, being in good shape. Known for his smiling countenance and melodic speaking (as well as singing) voice, he tells us how life is treating him as his new album, Fall in Love with Me, launches
By Victoria Popova

Mr. Skorikov begins by telling me that he hasn’t slept for several days as he’s always anxious before a concert, despite having spent a quarter of a century on stage.

Nikolay, do you lack confidence?

On the contrary, I’m very confident, but any artist who isn’t nervous before appearing on stage must be dead inside.

Comb even for those with no hair!
You served in the Baltic Fleet as a young man — how romantic! I envy you.

Honestly, after graduating from the conservatory, I didn’t really want to leave my beautiful young wife to serve in the army. I’m a Scorpio so my jealousy is boundless. However, I knew that I needed to serve my homeland. Friends told me that by joining the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Baltic Fleet (with my vocal education) I’d serve only two years instead of three. After a live audition, I was invited to join without question. Of course, I still undertook the same duties as other young sailors.

Did you clean the deck?

Certainly, and the toilet — sailors call it the latrine. By the way, they are very serious about using seafaring terminology. If you called a bevel a basin, you’d be hit with it!

Your wife met you when you had leave?

Of course, she came several times to Liepaja — the Latvian city where the fleet was based and where I took my oath. I don’t know if it’s changed now but, in Soviet times, to go on leave, you had to carry a handkerchief and a comb. I remember the first time I had leave to meet her I couldn’t get through the check point as I didn’t have a comb. I still don’t understand why it was necessary, as my head was shaven!

Fate and Destiny
Did the army teach you anything?

Sure. Serving with the ensemble, I became seriously interested in Soviet patriotic songs. It was in my blood perhaps, as my father fought in the Great Patriotic War; interestingly, he helped liberate Konigsberg, where I served many years later. It’s a fascinating link between generations. My grandmother believes that we each have our own path, as set by Fate, from birth. We can only follow Destiny.

You had the chance to become a lead singer with the New York City Opera but decided against the move.

In the early 1990s, I came to America at the invitation of the Belarusian community, with a group of our artists. A friend of mine, born in Belarus, was an influential American banker and a great joker. At a party, he introduced me to some music producers and organised an unofficial audition for the next day. A black limousine drove me to the New York City Opera, and, holding my head proudly, I attended my audition wearing a luxurious dinner jacket. Meanwhile, a clerk carried my briefcase of music. It was high-class PR. It all seemed unreal, so I wasn’t in the least nervous. My throat wasn’t dry, as often happens at competitions, and my knees didn’t shake. I performed Prince Gremin’s aria ‘Love Knows Nothing of Age’ and was asked back for the second round of auditions, this time with the orchestra. It was my chance but I dismissed the idea. So, a People’s Artist of Belarus sits before you. America just wasn’t for me...

It’s interesting that your daughter, Natalia — a world champion in professional ballroom dancing, has been living in America since she was 18.

Yes but I’m waiting for her to come to Minsk. She’s arriving to congratulate her father on his birthday.

Learning through experience
It’s said that our younger artists simply copy other people rather than being individual. Do you like any of them?

Belarus has many talented, skilled people. I like the work of Sasha Nemo and Yury Vashchuk. However, there are a lot of tenors; we need to find a good baritone… I’d teach him myself. We need a better system of nurturing true talent, with more funding required. I think that many artists lack full musical training, with only a vague idea of staging and good manners.

Who taught you these things?

Today, young artists have no idea of their luck and how easy their lives are. When I first heard Finberg’s orchestra, I watched and listened attentively, being spellbound. They were the absolute best: truly fantastic. I never imagined that, one day, I’d work with them. When I joined the orchestra, I finally understood the true nature of musical education. My elder musician colleagues recorded every show — all my performances — then sat me down in front of the tape recorder to point out all my errors. They picked up on every word and musical phrase sung incorrectly. Mikhail Yakovlevich Finberg didn’t need to do this, as there were others perfectly qualified to offer criticism. It was useful, allowing me to develop professionally. Today, I can say with certainty that all my learning has been thanks to my work with the orchestra. I now have firm foundations on which to build my work independently.

Without a producer?

I’m happy that I’ve found a Russian company, called Avgust, which is interested in my work. I’ve established a good relationship with the management, which has resulted in my new album. I’d like to thank my artistic patron, music lover Igor Kobzev, who is the deputy head of the company. He helps me in all ways possible. When I come to his office, I’m happy to see people who not only know how to make money but who recognise good classical music. Fortunately, I never hear ‘Murka’ or Stas Mikhailov in his office — as beloved by most of the population.

Why do you say that?

I don’t think that Mikhailov’s songs will endure like those of our countryman Yury Antonov. I remember falling in love with his ‘Mirror’ and ‘Anastasia’ when I was young. How much time has now passed!

Your new album features Fall in Love with Me. Are all the songs similar ballads or do you have any surprises for us?

I don’t think I’ll ever be a ‘wild child’, as I’ve always been a fan of Muslim Magomayev. Sitting at the piano, his singing is stylish, elite and beautiful; in short, he is a master. Over half of the songs on my album are written by Vladimir Sukolinsky, whom I met by chance. When he opened his computer to show me some musical material, the very first song I noticed was ‘Fall in Love with Me’. I decided for myself and told him that it would be a hit. Of course, so it has been. It seemed a good name for the album. Incidentally, you may like ‘In the Fleet’, which recalls my sailor days...
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