True composers aren’t afraid of competition

Young Belarusian composer Konstantin Yaskov ready to show how harmoniously our musical traditions can fit pan-European context

Mr. Yaskov is keen to explain why young Belarusian composers sometimes feel neglected.

I think that a whole range of inter-dependant reasons are to blame. Firstly, we don’t have many young Belarusian composers; compared to Europe, the number per capita isn’t great. Secondly, we are yet to create an annual stage for music composers to show their talent (at any age). We lack a festival of contemporary works, so composers must rely on concerts organised by the Belarusian Union of Composers, which take place once every five years. It’s simply not enough. Thirdly, such a festival is expensive, as everything must be paid for: the hall rental and fees for performers and composers.

No one works free of charge.

Sponsors in Russia and Ukraine, Germany and Poland are more eager to invest money into the musical sphere, since this is an issue of prestige. They organise a great many festivals.

I sometimes hear young composers reproached for being inactive, failing to offer their works to the public; it’s fair to some degree of course. The Association of Young Belarusian Composers, which was established a year ago and which I currently head, has set up a goal which is both practical and artistic: to find a common language with sponsors. We’re searching for how best to organise our association’s work with the minimum of state support.

Are you succeeding?

Yes, but it’s a gradual process. I don’t see anything terrible in music being treated as a commodity under market conditions.

Quality is vital, so the same laws should apply as do in material production.

You also organise the International Dialogues Festival of Contemporary Academic Music but I must admit I’ve heard little about it. Is it still active?

It took place only twice: in 2007 and 2009. Those who attended were pleased, so we’ve tried to keep in contact with anyone keen on contemporary works; a new festival is planned for April.

Aren’t you afraid of competition from the widely promoted Bashment, Spivakov and Belarusian Musical Autumn festivals?

Experience shows that people tend to respond to promotion.

These festivals primarily aim to popularise our long standing musical legacy of classics, designed for a wide audience. Of course, this is good, but our festival has a different direction. It does not aim to compete with popular classical music and there are no other such events in existence with which to compare us. We’ve already invited musicians from Switzerland,

Ukraine, Germany and Poland, so they can each demonstrate the latest musical trends in their country.

Is it possible to learn the skill of composing?

It can be taught in a general way but it’s a spiritual craft. Certain formulas can be mastered by anyone but it’s impossible to teach someone how to reveal their inner feelings and fantasies. I’m deeply convinced that composers need to be born with a natural inclination.

We’re now seeing our music being registered within a European context, with those living abroad liaising with Western bands. Undoubtedly, we have common pan-European educational standards, which are naturally reflected in creative activity. Meanwhile, globalisation is leading to musical culture losing its national identity. A composer’s personality becomes a ‘brand’ rather than national motifs. Belarusian music isn’t homogenous, as every composer has their own style: Smolsky, Kuznetsov and Gorelova would never be confused.

Some rely solely on folk traditions while others use western trends and some are keen on contemporary American trends. How can we surprise the world? I stress that quality is foremost. At present, there’s little high quality music, considering the abundance of contemporary composers (maybe never so many in the history of world culture). There’s a great deal of unprofessionalism and trash. Unfortunately, even mere professionalism is rare. Few professionals have remained in academic or pop music. Composers have access to huge audiences on the Internet, yet there is much ignorance, alongside some talented works.

What influences your creativity?

From the very beginning, Belarusian folklore — in its primeval, wild state — has influenced me greatly as far as musical language is concerned. However, the impact of Western European traditions is also great: baroque, classicism, romanticism, impressionism, avant-garde, and post-avant-garde… I’m also keen on American minimalism.

Probably, everything is mixed in my creativity, merging into a universal language. When I analyse my work, I discover elements from various layers. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that, while maintaining their own style, a contemporary composer should be able to satisfy any order — even the most remote from their own world outlook and philosophy. I think this is professionalism.

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