Voice of the Soul

‘If they say the violin is a human voice, I would say the viola is the voice of the soul,” muses one of the world’s leading violists, Maxim Rysanov, in in a phone interview from his London home.

Later this month, Rysanov, 32, makes his Israeli debut at the Sixth Eilat Chamber Music Festival.

Born in Ukraine “into a musical family – especially musical if you consider such a city as Kramatorsk, and with my parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, and now a nephew musicians” – he studied violin with his mother from the age of six. At 11, he was sent to the Special Central Music School in Moscow, where he studied with Maria Sitkovskaya. Later, in 1996, he continued to the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

It was in Moscow that he was exposed to the viola.

“I studied at the boarding school, and there was a viola player in the next room. Its vibrations touched me deeply when I played it. That was how I realized that I can play this instrument.” Between ages 12 and 14, he kept playing both violin and viola – finally choosing the latter.

”I realized that there are not so many viola soloists, and maybe I should put my bet on it, with so many violinists around.

“I wanted to go in new directions. But this was not only about my future career, of course. The viola is a very special instrument. If it is played in a good way, it can produce such colors that even the cello or violin do not have. It has an inner voice, which I always try to hear,” says Rysanov.

“Over the years, the viola has never been a really solo instrument, although there were names that have stayed in history, like William Primrose and Paul Hindemith, as well as Borisovsky, Druzhinin and Bashmet in Russia. But the viola is becoming more and more strong as an independent instrument now,” he says.

In 1996, Rysanov was accepted by the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where John Glickman became his tutor. This switch was not always smooth.

“As you know, in the Soviet times we were very much told what to do. I’m not saying it was bad – actually what Maria Sitkovskaya told me was pretty good – but when I came to London, there was a lot of free-style education going on there, and my teacher John Glickman never pushed me to do anything the way he wants; he always taught me to choose my opinions about one or another phrase.

He muses, “I think everything came at the right time, at the right age, to me.”

Not limiting himself to the viola, after six years with Glickman, Rysanov spent three additional years at Guildhall studying conducting.

Today, he divides his time between performing worldwide both as a soloist with leading orchestras and playing in various chamber ensembles, giving from 80 to 100 performances a season – which says a lot about his caliber as a musician.

Speaking of his choice of repertoire, Rysanov says that he loves “to perform just good music. I would not dare to call one or two pieces my favorites, it does not matter which time or style they come from. I completely adore to play Bach suites and classical repertoire, up to contemporary [music].

“I have a few composers writing for me. I believe in them and I have a long, ongoing relationship with them – [people] such as Dobrinka Tabakova, who originally came from Bulgaria but has lived in England practically all her life, and whose music is very much influenced by Bulgarian folk music.”

Another contemporary composer is Richard Dubugnon of Switzerland who “has recently finished a piece for me called ‘Incantation,’ which is about calling up the spirits.”

Not long ago, Rysanov world-premiered a viola concerto by the late Valentin Bibik, who was born in Ukraine and died in Israel a few years ago.

“It appeared to be a fantastic piece, and I’m thinking of recording it,” says Rysanov, who has quite a few successful recordings “over there in the market,” as he puts it, semi-ironically.

DESCRIBING HIS repertoire, he explains that there is “a huge gap in the Romantic period. Since I’m a romantic character, I would miss this repertoire, and so I make all sorts of arrangements – for example, Tchaikovsky’s Rococo variations, which I arranged for viola and performed at the Proms in London; and there is an arrangement by Sitkovskaya of the Cello Concerto by Saint-Saëns, or [Cesar] Franck’s sonata, to name a few.”

Rysanov agrees that in the highly competitive music world of today, “once you lose your quality, there are many young boys and girls who would gladly take your place. At the same time, I believe there is a place for everybody. If the player is good enough for an international scene, we don’t need to push each other in and out.”

He believes that competitiveness should rather be about “being more creative inside ourselves, more about how a person feels… A top-class, world maestro like Rostropovitch felt to his last day that he had to prove to everybody that he was No. 1. I think a musician cannot survive without an ego – yet, that said, I’m concerned that my ego should not become larger than the world itself,” he laughs.

Asked if he has any time left after rehearsing, touring and performing, Rysanov agrees that this is what his life mostly consists of, and he is OK with it, but shares proudly that he has “a new girlfriend. I enjoy going to the movies and meeting other people, and, yes – I’m reading Leon Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina now!”

Rysanov will also appear in Tel Aviv in December in the Crescendo Festival, but before that he is looking forward to his much-awaited debut in Eilat, where he will perform two chamber programs with his musical friends in two different programs on March 24 and 25.

For more details, visit the festival site at http://www.eilat-festival.co.il/

The Jerusalem Post, 4/03/11

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