One of the first concerts of the 50th anniversary season of the Minin Choir will take place on October 6, 2021 in the Great Hall of the Central House of Scientists in Moscow. It was here on April 23, 1972 that the band’s first concert took place.
This symbolic coincidence is an excellent occasion for a conversation under the light of a lamp with the founder, first artistic director, now president of the Moscow State Academic Chamber Choir, People’s Artist of the USSR, Vladimir Minin.
– Vladimir Nikolaevich, what details of that concert do you remember now?
– Perhaps you are waiting for some other answer, but I can hardly remember any details. And not because almost 50 years have passed since then.
You can imagine my state, my excitement that evening, the excitement of those choir artists who performed with me! After all, this was the first concert of an amateur choir. The program is one big section. And, of course, I will say that there was a very important success for us. But we are unlikely to find witnesses of this success.
– And why? For example, some children, they are now about sixty …
– May be! The only thing I can say now is that the program was very carefully selected for this concert. At that time, many chamber choirs arose, and they usually performed with Renaissance music. And I recorded from old and modern Russian music.
– Since childhood, your life has been associated with a large choir. You grew up in it, you taught how to work in it, you led it. And suddenly – a chamber choir, completely different sensations?
– You see, to some extent the Moscow Chamber Choir is my negative reaction to the big choir. Because, as a rule, the big choir is still gross, and the chamber choir is net.
You will say that emotional experiences are different. And I agree with you. But imagine that I invite you to the Tretyakov Gallery. And, let’s say, first I’ll show you Repin’s gigantic painting “The Senate Meeting.” And then I will bring you to the table on which the planks rotate on the post. On one of the planks there is a drawing by Fyodor Tolstoy. “Glass of water”. A teaspoon in a glass. A fly sits at the tip. But all this is drawn so subtly that the impression of this small drawing is no less than that of Repin’s painting.
Or another example. Paris, Louvre. Delacroix – “Liberty on the Barricades.” Great impression! And next to this is the 17th century painter Georges de Latour, a small painting “Saint Joseph the Carpenter”. And you stop, amazed not by the way it is done, but also by the atmospheric.
This skill has always attracted me. And I realized that I couldn’t do anything with my aesthetics in a big choir. This is why the Moscow Chamber Choir was created.
– In essence, you are talking about the special culture of the chamber choir as an ensemble of soloists. And this tradition is not Russian, but rather of the European Renaissance, Baroque. That is, I can assume that at the time of the creation of the Moscow Chamber Choir, you did not have a foothold in Russian culture. Did you know at that time Western collectives, on the experience, the repertoire of which you would rely on? Or was it an inspiration?
– Great question. In 1955, the Munich Chamber Orchestra came to the USSR under the direction of Wilhelm Stross. And after that Rudolf Barshai created his famous chamber orchestra.
Exactly the same impulse for Chorus was Robert Shaw, which I listened to in the early 1960s (the collective toured the USSR in 1962 – approx. interviewer). And it sunk into my soul, because, again, the dressing was a workshop.
And then I heard the Romanian “Madrigal” directed by Marina Constantin. The team was unique! Here they sang the music department of the Renaissance. And they had Renaissance outfits. Each choir artist has his own style. And I saw all this lilac-emerald gamut, masterfully made works of Orlando Lasso, Monteverdi, Josquin Despres … Great impression! But I didn’t just sit, I listened like a professional …
– You talked to Robert Shaw?
– Oh sure. We met, I came to visit him. And then we met in the USA. He was, of course, a master! It would seem that the composition – but begins small Lord have mercy from Bach’s Mass in B minor – and just wonderful! Craftsmanship!
– We are talking about Western influences – but at the same time, the Moscow Chamber Choir from the very beginning was distinctly Russian in spirit, repertoire …
– It was the modern Russian chamber choir that I created. And he built the repertoire accordingly.
For example, we took Sergei Slonimsky’s composition “Two Russian Songs”, it was quite fresh. They demanded the dressing I’m talking about.
How did we do it then? Of course, the forces were weak. Students … So to speak, amateur performances of professionals, choir conductors. What voices do they have? Straw, not voices!
But the effort was great. And one of the peaks, the achievements of this then amateur choir (there were 22 of us) – an invitation to perform at the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev! Nobody was allowed there at all, but we were invited. At that time, it was the highest award for me.
Sergei Slonimsky: “Fate withstands my operas like old wine”
– In general, what time was it – 1972?
– The outbreak of the thaw. She, of course, played a huge role for people of art, and not only for them. Remember the film by Grigory Chukhrai “Clear Sky”? A vivid shot: spring is coming, and the ice is breaking up on the river, which has fettered it all winter. I was born in Leningrad. And I remember the ice drift from childhood. I have seen more than once how these giant ice floes rise. But it was a natural phenomenon. And in Chukhrai it is a symbol of the liberation of a person from what constrained him.
This, too, to a certain extent influenced my desire to create something of my own. And not only to speak in our own language, but also not to sing along with this power. And I’ll tell you in honor: I take credit for the fact that in almost 50 years of the choir’s existence, we sang only one three-minute song by a Soviet composer (I do not name it), so to speak, in line with the prevailing ideology. It was called “October and Lenin”.
– How far were your repertoire plans then? What kind of music did you think about first?
– The greatest desire for me at that time was to open before the listener of plastic Russian music. This was especially true of the partisan concerts of Titov, Redrikov, Diletsky.
And then, somewhere far away, Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy loomed. But I started to approach it in 6 or 7 years. Why? Yes, because I was limited by the voice capabilities of the team. As soon as the choir more or less acquired professional singers, more opportunities appeared. And, of course, Rachmaninov arose.
But the composition was banned. And we gave a concert in the Great Hall of the Conservatory in Moscow, singing 7 choirs, op. 31 year… Well, as they say, a fool will not understand, and a smart one will not say (“Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom ”by Sergei Rachmaninoff – this is the 31st opus of the composer. The Moscow chamber choir deceived the Soviet censorship by singing fragments of a spiritual masterpiece under another that does not exist – approx. interviewer).
– The story with Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy is kind of double. And the Moscow Chamber Choir played a huge role in the life of this work, returning it to the concert stage, and the Liturgy became a milestone in the work of the collective. What other compositions will you single out as milestone?
– Before answering, I will turn to the fact of history. We know that Tchaikovsky wanted the premiere of his Violin Concerto to be performed by Leopold Auer, an outstanding violinist of the time. He refused.
Auer of the Russian violin
No matter how many times we have performed Mozart, Bach, Beethoven or Haydn, others have also performed. Some are a little better, others a little worse, but, to be honest, it has no fundamental significance for the history of music in Russia. But the premiere of a domestic composer – this is what matters! And we come to such works as “Pushkin’s Wreath” by Sviridov, “Chimes” by Gavrilin, “The Sealed Angel” by Shchedrin, a number of works by Kancheli, and so on.
August 17 – Valery Gavrilin’s birthday
As for western music. For example, cantata Catulli Carmina Orff. Or, for example, a concert version of the musical “Wonderful City” and “Chichester Psalms” by Bernstein, which have not been played here before.
Of course, Les Noces and Symphony of Psalms by Stravinsky. Although, in connection with this author, it sometimes seems to me that the publication applauded more after the announcement than after the end.
– Has the House of Scientists changed a lot since then?
– Fortunately, there is nothing new for me here. I remember the setting, the hall, and the building itself. This is great, and thanks to the people who keep it all.
Interviewed by Mikhail Segelman