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The teacher matters

Cellist Alexey Kiselev is among the many Belarusians who’ve brought prestigious awards to our country
Cellist Alexey Kiselev is among the many Belarusians who’ve brought prestigious awards to our country. At the moment, he is a soloist and concert master at the Royal National Scottish Orchestra and a lecturer at Scotland’s Royal Conservatory. Alexey often returns to Belarus, as it’s impossible for him to keep away from his native land for long. During his recent visit, the musician met our reporter to talk about family, homeland and British orchestras.

Alexey Kiselev often visits his teacher

How did your musical education start?

My father, Andrey Kiselev, initiated it. He’s a violinist and, in the past, worked at the Opera Theatre. He wanted me to become a musician as well. Vladimir Perlin became my main teacher and my father was the second; we studied at home every day from the age of 5 to 12 years. When I received third prize at the International Tchaikovsky Youth Competition, my father told me, “From now on, be independent.” My mother followed the usual path of her generation: she studied piano playing, then graduated from a music school and even accompanied me for a while during the early years.

Why did you choose cello rather than violin like your father?

My father wanted me to play violin but he was persuaded otherwise in the end. He took me to Mr. Perlin for lessons, which was a pivotal moment in my life. He was an example of how important a good teacher is. Between the ages of 15 and 18, during my three last years at the Republican Musical Gymnasium-College, I also studied in Germany where I was taught by Tielmann Wieg; I spent one month in Hanover and the next in Minsk. That was good experience since my teacher was of the true German school; he was completely different to Mr. Perlin in his approach. Mr. Perlin represents the Russian school. He has a Russian soul which is open to everyone while, in Germany, I did more pedantic work — giving more time to technical skills which was definitely useful. It was to my benefit when I learnt how to combine these two principles. Later, Jerome Pernoo suggested he teach me and I was pleased to accept. At that time, he was lecturing at London’s Royal College of Music.

It is commonly thought, especially among young people, that life abroad is full of milk and honey…

I also had fantasies of the kind but they quickly disappeared. A student has many illusions when devoting all their time to musical studies. Once their education finishes and they face the world with no establishment supporting them, they often experience a shock.

You are just 30. Isn’t it difficult for someone so young to work as a concert master?

By the time I started the job, I’d already accumulated experience of playing with London orchestras and learnt a great deal. I can’t say it’s easy to lead people who are older, especially taking into consideration that they are professionals. Nevertheless, we’ve gradually developed a way of working. After four and a half years of hard work, I’ve revived my cello group.

Do you have ambitions to do anything new?

There is plenty of work still to do. I’m still active as a soloist which I’m pleased about: this has always been my main ambition. The experience I gain working with an orchestra does me no harm. However, if a musician plunges into orchestral music and thinks little of their solo career, in 90 percent of cases their standard of playing will drop. It’s hard to sustain it at the required level.

It’s often thought that jealousy and intrigue reign amongst artistic groups. Do you think academic musicians have problems of this kind?

Actually, this is common in all disciplines. The more you achieve, the greater the struggle for all involved. Music has its hierarchy and each step up the ladder entails a great deal of work. It’s a bit like a computer game!

The more advanced the level, the more terrible the monsters do you mean? 

True [smiling].

We have heard of a couple of scandals in the world of academic music… 

This is especially common in England which has its own particular mentality. I once attended a concert where a student did not play well but everyone applauded and, after the performance, congratulated him — saying that he was great. I could not understand why it was necessary to deceive him: if mistakes are not spoken of, he will never improve. Englishmen in general prefer not to voice their opinion openly. In turn, Slavs are very straightforward. It’s different abroad, especially in business. For musical agents, music is a business which brings them money. At first sight, everything is great but then you realise that problems do exist. It’s almost impossible to guess what a person actually wants to say. This is the English way of communicating. It’s interesting to see how it’s possible to say a lot by actually saying little. 

If you are invited back to Belarus, would you return? Many Belarusian musicians who’ve left to go abroad, blame low wages as the reason behind their decision to stay away.

In England, salaries are not extremely high either. Moreover, there is a tradition in London of inviting people to play free of charge; I’ve experienced this. I disagree with the philosophy that a person should work free of charge in any sphere. Music is often viewed as a hobby in our country. For me this is work. Salaries are not too high but I’m able to enjoy a certain standard of living if I work as a concert master and lecture at the Conservatory. I know how much I’ve invested in myself and how much others have invested too, including my parents and teachers. I know my price: I’ll return home with pleasure if I’m offered a good enough deal. My family live here and I adore our nature and landscape. Belarus is a wonderful country. 

By Irina Ovsepyan
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