Major notes in the score of life
[b]Who among Belarusian fans of classical music doesn’t know Alexander Anisimov, Chief Conductor of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Belarus? He was recently awarded the honorary title of People’s Artiste of Belarus and no one doubts his extreme professionalism [/b]His concerts inspire great emotions and Mr. Anisimov is ever striving for new challenges, bringing long forgotten music to the world and discovering new opera performers and musicians. Constantly improving himself, he continues to be interesting. I associate his name with optimism, benevolence and great elegance — from the way he bows to the first violin on entering the stage and greets the musicians and audience in the hall, to the stroke of his conductor’s baton and his final bow. His sense of style is echoed by his orchestra, which behaves as a living organism. Anyone lucky enough to attend one of Mr. Anisimov’s concerts can’t but admire the delicacy of the female musicians and the dignity of the men — noble in their evening suits.Even during accidental meetings, his positivity comes to the fore. He is well-loved and admired by fans of classical music and those who’ve only met him once. His style is characterised by wonderful simplicity: the ‘permanent companion’ of anyone decent, intelligent and cultured. Mr. Anisimov also has some purity and freshness — a healthy energy.
His concerts inspire great emotions and Mr. Anisimov is ever striving for new challenges, bringing long forgotten music to the world and discovering new opera performers and musicians. Constantly improving himself, he continues to be interesting. I associate his name with optimism, benevolence and great elegance — from the way he bows to the first violin on entering the stage and greets the musicians and audience in the hall, to the stroke of his conductor’s baton and his final bow. His sense of style is echoed by his orchestra, which behaves as a living organism. Anyone lucky enough to attend one of Mr. Anisimov’s concerts can’t but admire the delicacy of the female musicians and the dignity of the men — noble in their evening suits.
Even during accidental meetings, his positivity comes to the fore. He is well-loved and admired by fans of classical music and those who’ve only met him once. His style is characterised by wonderful simplicity: the ‘permanent companion’ of anyone decent, intelligent and cultured. Mr. Anisimov also has some purity and freshness — a healthy energy.
What does the honorary title of People’s Artiste mean to you?
I’m glad to have joined the community of People’s Artistes of Belarus, which unites respectable people countrywide. My friends are among these people, as are those who were once my pupils. Now, I’ve caught up with them.
You became Chief Conductor when you were rather young?
Yes. Just five years after graduating from the Conservatoire, I was appointed Chief Conductor of the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre. I’ve never forgotten a rather amusing event from that time. After I’d been there a couple of years, People’s Artiste of the USSR Irina Arkhipova organised a competition in honour of M. Glinka. Irina headed Moscow Musical Society at that time. The jury members were listed, each crowned as Honoured Artistes of the USSR and of various republics; there were laureates of various high awards. I was named as a People’s Artiste of Belarus and Professor and asked Ms. Arkhipova where she’d found such information — since I had no titles and was only an ordinary teacher at the Conservatoire. She was astonished, asking how I could be chosen to head the orchestra without having such awards. I smiled but didn’t argue. So, the assigning of my title by this great goddess of arts — a ‘benchmark’ of opera — happened thirty years ago!
What was the reaction of your orchestra to the recent news?
Many came to the Philharmonic Society with flowers, although it was the beginning of the vacation. Musicians were calling to congratulate me, saying: ‘It’s very important for us that our conductor, whom we respect, love and appreciate, has been acknowledged by the state’. They also added that People’s Artiste of Belarus sounds beautiful.
Is it easy to be a chief conductor, leading and guiding musicians?
You have to be born a leader, as this path is far from easy — despite how it may seem at first sight. Although leadership is a vocation, much depends on your attitude towards your profession. If you become involved in something which doesn’t really interest you, everything is problematic. However, if your work is your passion, even solving problems brings great pleasure. Naturally, you need talent, instinct and some qualities which can’t be analysed. Leadership skills have nothing to do with age, titles or, even, experience.
Were things different for you in the past?
I don’t think so, although experience is useful. I joined the band as a young man, surrounded by People’s Artistes and Honoured Figures of Arts — some had been working for forty years. I managed to conduct them for quite a long time; I may be the longest serving chief conductor.
How have you managed this? Creative people seem to be prone to depression when there’s nothing new for them to do… How do you fight such feelings?
Fortunately, I haven’t experienced too many catastrophes, although disappointments do occur. There are always some problems in life but I’ve managed to solve these or believe that I’ve solved them. There must be something in my character which helps me. We call this optimism. I’m a positive person, who likes people very much; I believe people are better than generally thought. I don’t wear ‘rose tinted glasses’ or I’d never manage to conduct such a big orchestra. I have to make tough decisions sometimes. However, I’ve inherited good qualities from my parents — faith, determination, optimism and, finally, health. If you’re prone to illness, you tend to view life in a negative light. Like everyone, I face disasters and have lost loved ones but I’m a baptised believer. I’m not strictly Orthodox and don’t feel the presence of God or the Church directly helps me (to say otherwise would be insincere) but people say that I’m protected by a guardian angel. Maybe, this is really so.
When you’ve been on stage, conducting the orchestra, have you ever felt an air of mysticism or something unexplained?
Not really. I’m always puzzled when people say that someone or something guides them. What else, if not professionalism, can guide you? If I miss something during a rehearsal, forget something or become distracted during a concert, it’s my own fault; you need to remain professional. Of course, inspiration exists, but it comes with preparation, which brings power and confidence, then joy. At this moment, inspiration appears. For me, being on stage brings a feeling of belonging to group creativity — making waves of sound; this is pure joy. Many things can bring you joy — from seeing your children or coming home to seeing old friends or enjoying a range of delicious food. All these joys bring me great pleasure in life.
Besides your award, which other recent events have multiplied this pleasure?
I’d say seeing my children and grandchildren — as I don’t have many opportunities to be with them. They’re independent now, with their own businesses, troubles and obligations, so we don’t spend as much time together. Any meeting with them is a great joy. I was recently in Moscow Region, where my younger daughter lives. Four months ago, she gave birth to her daughter and I was keen to see her. My grandson is already two years old. I spent two fantastic days with the babies, my daughter and her husband. My elder daughter, who lives in Moscow with her son, also arrived. It was wonderful fun.
Do your daughters also love music?
My elder daughter graduated from our Conservatoire’s Choir Department. My younger daughter graduated from Minsk’s State Choreographic College, gaining her first job at our Opera and Ballet Theatre. She then left for Moscow to be an actress, but is now raising her children, trying her hand at journalism. These are her curious professional zigzags. My son is a musician and can’t leave Paris: he’s almost ‘infected’ by this amazing city. He’s a talented young man. I’ve tried to persuade him to come home for the past few years, while following his concert successes. I’ve no doubt that he’d find things easier here, as he’d have my support. I never conceal my feelings that parents should assist their children, especially in an artistic family. It’s normal. Maybe I shouldn’t so insistently ask him to return, trying his hand at conducting, but it’s my dream. Of course, he wants to take credit for his own achievements. He’s currently undertaking postgraduate studies; following my example, he realises that ‘intellectual luggage’ is important.
Many musicians’ children are doing well abroad. The same has ever been true in Russia. These children often return home eventually, understanding that they’re needed and that their labour will be worthily recognised.
Has an orchestra ever rejected a conductor?
Such situations do happen, especially with ‘naughty’ orchestras — I think those from France and Italy are the most ‘naughty’. The musicians might go to the directorate during the first rehearsal and say: ‘We won’t work with this conductor’. They know that a contract has been signed and that scandal may ensue, as the media will take hold of the story — to the detriment of the orchestra — but the directorate agrees.
The reasons are various. Sometimes, there are a few bad eggs in the group, who encourage their colleagues to reject the conductor simply for sport; a calm work environment bores them. Sometimes, conductors may react to something they dislike. My personal hate is when people don’t sit up straight. However, I bite my tongue when I’m with someone else’s orchestra — as you don’t know what rules they may follow. It can just be a musician’s way of being comfortable. Some conductors can’t ignore such cases and kick up a fuss. The orchestra doesn’t like it, so the conductor has to leave. There have been a few instances of this happening. Once, in France, there was a wonderful conductor with whom a five year contract had been signed. All was fine for the first year. Then, suddenly, the new director decided he didn’t like him and released him from his contract, paying him compensation for the remaining four years — a huge sum. Conflicts happen.
Do your own musicians ever lounge about in their chairs?
Not that I see (smiles).
How would you assess last season?
Each year, I seem to say how significant and intense the previous season was. I’ve been saying it for a decade now (smiles). I’m very glad that I can say this. Fortunately, I’ve never needed to say that the season has been awful, with half-empty halls! We’ve never had a situation where we’ve had no new pieces or foreign tours or works by Belarusian composers. Also, I’ve never been admonished.
Thank God, I can’t say any of these things; I’m very proud of this and that works by Belarusian composers are so well received by the public. We’ve performed some wonderful music, which touches people’s hearts, gathering full-houses, while focusing on technical mastery and skill. It’s fantastic when listeners view a new layer of Belarusian culture with surprise and admiration. Audiences are astonished at finding this music so enthralling. We were welcomed with delight when playing with Mogilev’s Philharmonic Society, featuring music by Belarusian composers at the beginning of the last season. We presented some music performed for the first time, alongside scores rarely heard in Belarus.
What do you expect from the current season?
We have new scores planned. I truly believe the season will be unique. We opened with Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, inviting a choir from Kaunas. It’s a difficult piece which you don’t hear often. The latest laureate of the International Tchaikovsky Competition — Ivan Karizna — debuted on the opening night; it was our gift to the first audience of the new season. Our audiences are fully aware of the originality of our discoveries.
You liaise with many artistic bands. Why are they interesting to you?
Each band is interesting in its own way. Yes, I’ve made joint programmes many times with our Chamber Orchestra — performing Mozart’s ‘Requiem’. They also invite me. I work with a boys’ choir from the Musical College and at school #10 (named after Yevgeny Glebov). We’ve worked with ‘New Jerusalem’ band and with a good jazz band called ‘Apple Tea’. I meet new, interesting bands and foreign symphony groups when I have time and when I’m free from my obligations to my orchestra.
I also work with opera theatres, which I thoroughly enjoy; I bring Belarusian performing art abroad. When I was given the title of People’s Artiste of Belarus, I received congratulations from so many sources. The Belarusian Ambassador to Lithuania, Vladimir Drazhin, told me: ‘You deserve this highest award for your many years of talented work for the sake of the Republic of Belarus and for your work in promoting and strengthening our spiritual treasures and artistic-moral traditions, presenting our art abroad’.
I believe that foreign contacts are important and useful. As an artiste, I need to be fed by new impressions from other acoustic halls. Each orchestra boasts its own prominent performers and soloists; these include violinists, horn players and oboists. Their experience passes through me and is then brought to life via my own orchestra.
Which countries have you visited recently and what impressed you?
At present, my contacts with Russia are most active. Previously, I lacked time and, frankly, the proposals were rather modest. Now, this country can rival any foreign state in its economic and financial opportunities — maybe even outstripping them. I’ve been delighted by an invitation from Ufa to stage a new version of ‘Prince Igor’, accompanied by such outstanding people as director Georgy Isaakyan and artist Ernst Geidebrecht, who is well known as a former artist of our Opera Theatre. It’s a great honour for me.
I’m always pleased to recollect my visit to the international festival in French Reims. I was attending for the first time, although I know France rather well. Reims boasts a wonderful audience. I also had a superb concert in Polish Łуdź, alongside a fabulous performance at the Bratislava Philharmonic. The programmes differed widely, including Russian and foreign scores. I’ve worked with western repertoires: Wagner, Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven. Interesting plans lie ahead for my orchestra and for me personally.
Have you been invited to conduct our Bolshoi Theatre?
The current leadership of the theatre regularly takes interest in my creativity and invites me to conduct various performances. Two dates have already been set for the new season: on November 30th, I’ll be conducting ‘Carmina Burana’ and ‘Carmen’; and in early December, will conduct ‘Rigoletto’. Co-operation between orchestras is important, as is the exchange of musicians; it’s normal to have a few teething problems of course. We recently performed ‘Iolanthe’, with Irina Krikunova, a Russian prima, joined by our opera artists. It was an official project — marking a holiday for our two groups.
How do you see the future of your orchestra?
It’s difficult to speak of progress, since there is a financial and organisational side; our major task is to sustain our current high level for as long as possible. We must constantly rehearse and struggle, fighting not against someone, but for something… Our instruments need to be kept in peak condition and we have to adjust our acoustics, since they’re not the best in the world. We don’t have a permanent concert hall in which to perform classical music yet, but nor do our colleagues in Russia, Lithuania or Ukraine. It would be wonderful for Belarus to have a hall similar to that used by the Berlin Philharmonic and the Konzerthaus in Vienna. Symphony music is important in its own right.
Our work is rather expensive, but it’s necessary not just as spiritual sustenance but for our image. I’m delighted that state figures understand this. On the eve of May 9th, I was invited to perform a classical concert in the evening, before the holiday salute. You can’t even imagine how proud I was to be asked. It was a great success, with an audience of 15,000 in the open air near Minsk’s Hero City Monument. It was pouring with rain the whole day but it stopped just as the concert was due to begin. I was in a taxi and was expressing my horror at the weather when the driver told me: ‘Calm down! The rain will stop ten minutes before the concert’. This is exactly what happened. I was surprised at how he knew!
Maybe your angel calmed you down through the driver…
Are you satisfied with all aspects of your orchestra?
Life is such that each profession has its time span. Ballet dancers can only work for a very short period, then they must retire, which they feel deeply. I know this from my wife. They retire while still being rather active, so need an application for their energy, becoming choreographers or heads of studios. Military men, especially pilots, also have a definite ‘working period’. Musicians are no exception and it’s difficult for them to part with their much loved occupation.
Part of my role as leader involves me assessing musicians and deciding when their skills are waning. Of course, there are some ‘elders’ in the orchestra, with whom I’ll never part; they are the pride of our orchestra. Even if they played at half of their ability, compared with a decade ago, this would be better than that of several younger musicians. Of course, there are some with whom I must part, as it’s vital to be able to invite new young talent into the orchestra. We need to accommodate them, so that they don’t go abroad, where everything is not as sweet as they might think. Every young musician currently with us deserves to be a member of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Belarus.
Do these ‘elders’ help approve the youngsters?
Yes. I always listen to their opinions. We use various methods to strengthen morale in our orchestra.
Do musicians always sit in the same place during concerts or rehearsals?
In line with labour legislation, there are no fixed places assigned by contract, although we do have wage tariffs covering each person, by rank. If I think the balance of sound seems incorrect, I may seat an ‘elder’ further back and bring closer a younger musician. I can also ask ‘elders’ to play the minor parts and the novices to take solos.
Which of our Belarusian opera performers and musicians deserve world fame?
Those who deserved fame in their homeland are worthy of world acclaim; there are dozens of musicians and performers, some of whom play or sing with our orchestra, whom I’d place in this category. Take a playbill and you’ll see their names.
By Valentina Zhdanovich