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10 June 2010,13:28

“Our great nation is being drugged with pop music”

On June 3, Denis Matsuev, a globally acclaimed pianist and Distinguished Artist of Russia, gave a long-awaited concert at the Saidashev Grand Concert Hall in Kazan. The world’s most popular classical musician, he has performed here more than once. This time, the concert was part of a Russian tour (Matsuev came from Nizhny Novgorod), closing the Grand Concert Hall’s concert season.

There was standing room only in the hall, hundreds of admirers having, despite expensive tickets, come to do justice to the musician’s expressive and technically brilliant performance of pieces by Schubert, Beethoven, Grieg, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Mozart. Denis Matsuev, whose career had soared after the triumphal victory at the 11th international Tchaikovsky competition, did not disappoint the high art lovers.

Earlier, Matsuev gave a charity concert for disabled people and students of Kazan music schools, and talked to journalists.

D.M.: Each visit to Kazan is for me a special, warm state of mind. Trust me, I do not say this in every city in my tour itinerary. Here there is a warmth everywhere, a cordiality. Kazan has very clean streets, it is one of the cleanest cities in the country.

Generally speaking, I like my Russian tours very much, they are like training for me, a kind of schooling. For our audience is the most proper, authentic, hard-to-get – it needs courting, as a girl. The audience is always right, the more so one’s native one. I grew up with this viewer, I may say they raised me.

I play a lot in the West, from America to Japan, and often compare that audiences to the Russian viewer. There is some magic in how audiences in Germany, England and France before the concert go to restaurants, then get in luxurious cars and go to the concert, and then on the same luxurious cars go back to their well-heated homes. The situation here is somewhat different – Russian people will take the metro, trolleybuses, trams, go to the concert in the cold, give their last money for the ticket – there is something in this. I treasure my audience that I have long had a virtual romance with, I do not want to lose them. The fact that viewers are becoming more due to younger people is very important to me – many younger people, luckily, come to my concerts.

Q: You have more than once said that pop music should be fought.
A: The mass media frequently zombify people, make them addicted to the pop needle. Pop music is almost becoming our great nation’s, the Russian people with huge cultural traditions’, lifestyle. Trust me, show business is very difficult to fight, it has penetrated deep enough even into the classic art. We manage to survive though.

Many say classic music is dying, I absolutely disagree with this. Play it any way, but the audience understands what real art is. People who have been trained to go to classic music concerts understand what the point is – I call this stage therapy. I do not get tired of any of my 160 concerts a season. The flying, riding, jet lagging, climate change, lack of sleep and melancholy are what is tiresome. But as soon as you go on stage, all this vanishes. Despite that I invest 150 percent of myself in a performamce, I receive a great amount of positive energy emotions from the audience in return, and this charges me for the future.

Q: What, do you think, can be done, to increase the demand for classic music?
A: A lot of effort is needed, to fight the show business machine. Classic music will definitely not be possible to be promoted to the same extent, because the money is different. But something needs to be done, as obscure personalities have infested the TV, and the humour is awful. Thank God, there is the Kultura channel, the only safe haven on our TV.

I am doing everything I can, appearing on various shows where classic pianists probably should not appear. But I do not do this because it feels so good, but so that new spectators came to concerts.

Q: How do you find that line, to be commercially successful, play classic music and be on the enlightenment mission?
A: That popular performers should teach the audience is absolutely right. I have for about 13 years annually gone with concerts to Japan, and every year I have played the Tchaikovsky No 1 Concerto for the piano and the orchestra. Convincing the Japanese audience I played something else was practically impossible. Only two years ago, I first played the Tchaikovsky’s No 2 Concerto, pressed on them.

It is very difficult to make the audience change their mind but we are charged with the mission of enlightenment. I play a lot of music that is allegedly unsellable. If I do not play the music, show business will soon conquer our world. There are some happy exceptions – in the US, Germany, the UK and Russia there are season tickets to concerts, where the audience is educated.

Q: They say you keep the atmosphere of 20 years ago in your flat in Irkutsk. And that it is one place where you can have a good rest and relax...
A: Yes, I even argued with my parents because back in the 90es they wanted to sell the flat. But I did not let them do that, or even redecorate. The whole atmosphere in the flat is reminiscent of my childhood and youth. I arranged the Stars on Baikal festival so I could spend one week a year at home, apart from everything else. I want to sleep in my own bed. I like living at home with my parents, the atmosphere in the flat is unique.

Q: You are the president of the New Names fund. Are they many, new names?
A: Considering the youngest generation in percentage, they could be fewer than our generation. But there are some sparkles and starlets lighting up.

I am very afraid of the word “child prodigy”. When talented musicians reach the age of 17, they go off the radar. This, in my view, has two explanations. The first reason is the stars position themselves this way, the unique talent’s peak was in their childhood. Every musician has their climaxes in life and in art. The second reason is their parent’s help, in inverted commas, who since their early childhood try to make children think they are celebrities. A young child is a very delicate organism, though. The purpose of funds like New Names is to protect talents from such trouble, and help their gradual progress.

Q: Denis, has your climax passed?
A: I hope it is still ahead (laughs).

Q: What has this concert season been like to you?
A: This year has been very hard in all senses; I mean, the multiple trips, tight schedule. Say, in London I nearly set a world record, there will be a 5th concert with various orchestras in one season. It is happiness for me, to try various traditions of these orchestras' history on stage and get enormous pleasure from working with magnificent conductors.

We toured the whole country with the Easter Festival. The outstanding Russian performance school’s new generation's festivals Crescendo have traditionally been held as well. Over the 5 years it has been held, we have shown and proven we have a whole constellation of unique musicians, aged 25 to 30, glorifying our school all over the world. Unfortunately, the audience had been unaware of the names before. But now I can say that of the 65 musicians who have over these years taken part in Crescendo , 10 to 15 have firmly established themselves in the Russian concert niche, in the better sense of the word. I hope we will come with Crescendo to Kazan in 2012-2013.

I cannot but talk about the Stars on Baikal festival; it is my child, since I was born in Irkutsk and lived their for 15 years. We will this year hold the 5th, anniversary, event. Nearly all our maestros, the amazing orchestras of Spivakov, Gergiev, Temirkanov, have taken part in it.

A close friend of mine, my jazz partner, Georgy Garanian, passed away this year. We had a very nice duo, a classic musician playing jazz and a jazz maestro, the “sax symbol” of Russia. His decease is a great loss for both me personally and the entire jazz Olympus. Still, I will not give up this thing.

I am turning 35 on June 11. They have managed to persuade me do an anniversary concert at the Tschaikovsky Hall. It is nothing but another reason to meet with my friends and viewers.

Prepared by Kristina Ivanova

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