From Far-Reaching Places
00:03 MELISSA MOORE: Welcome to the Tippet Rise podcast, brought to you from Tippet Rise Art Center, located on a 12,000 acre ranch in Fishtail, Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park. I’m Melissa Moore. At Tippet Rise, we celebrate the synergy of art, architecture, music, and nature, out of which we weave our identities. The Tippet Rise podcast explores these connections. Today’s episode, produced by Zachary Patten, explores the origin and artistic mission of three soloists brought together for the purpose of sharing chamber music with the world, while making each place they visit feel like home.
01:05 JOHANNES MOSER: It all started in Berlin when there was a really nice surprise when Vadim came to my concert to hear Saint Saëns concerto. Then we met again, by coincidence, in Tokyo, and I came to his concert. We had wonderful sushi and a little bit too much sake and we said, “Why don’t we do something together?” Then it was time to find a pianist. We made a list and on the top was Yevgeny, and he said “Yes!”
01:48 ZACHARY PATTEN: As the world becomes smaller due to advances in technology and transportation, musicians have much greater freedom to connect with a broader audience and each other. From far-reaching places, musical paths intersect sparking collaborations and friendships.
02:02 VADIM GLUZMAN: I live between Chicago and Tel Aviv.
02:04 YEVGENY SUDBIN: London.
02:05 JM: And I now live in Cologne and Munich. Home for all of us is very relative. We play dozens of concerts, so mainly you live out of a suitcase, I guess.
02:19 VG: An older colleague of ours, Gideon Kramer, said in one of his books said that “Home is where I sleep tonight.” It is a sad statement but, at the same time, it is basically the reality of our lives. So, our home is Montana.
02:37 JM: Exactly. I do travel with my pillow, though, so home is where my pillow is!
02:44 ZP: Due to their extensive solo careers, pianist, Yevgeny Sudbin, violinist Vadim Gluzman, and cellist Johannes Moser have known each other for many years but didn’t actually play together until two years ago, when they set out on a European tour.
02:57 JM: It’s been quite an amazing journey which I would dare to say started off a little bit rocky, just by the nature of what we do. We are all soloists and you become a successful soloist by having the most individuality that you can. And so, to find common ground in the beginning was a little difficult and I think became our strongest asset. All of us, then, brought a big dynamic personality to the trio and helped to propel the whole thing forward and now I feel that we have a dynamic going that I appreciate very, very much.
03:37 ZP: In the summer of 2018, the trio performed three concerts at Tippet Rise Art Center with music by Mozart, Gubaidulina, Shostakovich, Schnittke, Tchaikovsky and more.
03:46 VG: If you read the title page of any Mozart violin sonata, in reality it is sonata for klavier und violine, for piano and violin. The violin is looked upon as basically an accompanying instrument. Just around the time that Mozart wrote this sonata, he let the violin to be more than just an accompanying instrument.
04:15 ZP: Seeking new employment, Mozart left Salzburg and traveled to Munich, Mannheim, and Paris, where he published this 18th of 36 Violin Sonatas. This one marking the new style.
04:26 VG: In masterclasses, I make an experiment when students play Mozart, or even Beethoven, sonatas. I ask the violinist to stop playing and listen with fresh ears to what the pianist is playing. Most often, this is just enough. Nothing is missing when the violin has stopped playing!
04:46 YS: I think the piano and violin are equal for my taste. You can’t have one without the other.
04:51 ZP: This sonata is one of Mozart’s warmest and most recognizable violin pieces and the first movement immediately proclaims the equality of the violin and piano
05:00 YS: In this sonata, it has great variety. It really makes you listen to each other and appreciate the dialogue that is constantly going on.
05:13 ZP: The second movement has similar dialogue exchanges and its recurring theme is set between varied episodes in a rondo form.
05:21 JM: What I wonder, and this is purely from, unfortunately, from the perspective of a cellist; we don’t have Mozart sonatas. Every morning I wake up with a tear in my eye because of that. Imagine my depression of life! But that’s okay, I can deal. With the Beethoven sonatas that are also written for piano and violoncello, I often have the feeling that there are sections where the stringed instrument is like the third hand of the piano. And then, he changes to the stringed instrument being a singing instrument, and then it changes back to being a third hand. Is that also something that happens in Mozart, would you say?
05:57 VG: I think it’s very much the case. I think that in the case of Mozart, it is more often the third hand of the piano, maybe sometimes the second. Indeed, it is for me, part of the whole structure rather than a shining voice.
06:23 ZP: After Mozart left Paris without a job, he resumed working in Salzburg for the following three years. He then moved to Vienna to find and freelance with other musicians and he would never again hold a full-time salaried position.
06:35 VG: I think one special thing about this sonata, is there is no slow movement per say. But do pay attention to the middle section of the second movement. This is one of those Mozart moments where your heart can’t help but skip a beat or two.
07:22 VG: The first door opening I will never forget. I rang the doorbell, she opened the door, and there stands this very short woman with piercing eyes. I physically felt like I was scant. It really was a physical sensation. After these few seconds, when I entered the room. I had a distinct feeling that this woman knows me, knows who I am, knows why I even play violin. We continued, we didn’t start our conversation.
08:01 ZP: Written in 1981 for the married violin - cello duo, Oleg Kagan and Natalia Gutman, the musical aesthetic of Rejoice might not seem to match the title’s command in the way that an unfamiliar listener would expect.
08:16 JM: This piece is actually as, how should I say, as ethereal as it is mystical to me. I think in order to understand this music better, for me, it was a huge advantage that Vadim actually knows Sofia Gubaidulina quite well.
08:32 VG: She’s still very much with us. She a young lady of eighty-seven, I believe she will be in October. And today she is considered one of the greatest voices in modern music, revered by peers, by musicians, by audiences.
08:48 ZP: Gubaidulina came of age in the post-Stalin era, as Nikita Khrushchev relaxed artistic restrictions.
08:54 VG: She left when the Soviet Union just broke in the very early 90’s. She lives outside of Hamburg in an absolutely gorgeous little village overlooking fields and, according to her, she needs nothing else. She does not really want to see a street.
09:13 YS: So she could move here?
09:14 VG: She could, easily! You took it out of my mouth. She could easily find a home here and I’m sure she would be very inspired.
09:37 VG: She’s a deeply and sincerely spiritual religious person. She’s Russian Orthodox. Interesting side note, her father was an Imam, but yet she chose Russian Orthodoxy. A lot of her music is based on this or that religious aspect, subject, thought, feeling, you name it. This piece is not an exception.
10:03 JM: Yes, it’s interesting that you mention her spirituality as her main trait of personality, because this piece is very much about the transition between, you know, what probably every religion, to a certain extent, is focusing on: the transition between life and death. For her, she says life represents normally played notes and the other side of the spectrum that we don’t know anything about, but we all eventually will, is represented by harmonics. Now, harmonics on a stringed instrument are produced if you don’t press down the finger completely and you usually get a much higher sound. Some of them, I think it’s safe to say, are fiercely difficult to create, in terms of sound. What helped me, especially now in the last few days, to get into this piece, is that these difficulties that you have instrumental-wise, actually bring - the struggle - brings an emotional quality to the work that I find very propelling. It’s something that has pushed us forward, I would say.
11:46 ZP: In a defining moment in 1954, Dmitri Shostakovich advised the young Sofia Gubaidulina to continue down her own “incorrect” path. For Shostakovich, the path to composing his cello sonata was initiated from his opinion that Soviet composers neglected chamber music in favor of orchestral music. The cello sonata was partly an effort to counter that tendency. Here, Yevgeny describes some of the virtues of being a chamber musician.
12:13 YS: Generally, you rehearse, you find some points of contact and after that, it’s pretty spontaneous because you never rehearse in such a way - okay, we’re doing it like this, we’re doing it like this. In chamber music things happen spontaneously quite a lot, so it’s never static even if you have rehearsed it a hundred times. Pieces change, interpretations change, that’s why it’s so exciting to actually do chamber music with different musicians because you arrive at different compromises or ideas. It’s a great process. I think being a chamber musician is an art in itself, very different from being a soloist. It’s good to cultivate it.
12:48 VG: I think two analogies that could be given: one is a tennis game, where you have to react at all times to the way the ball is sent to you and how do you react.
12:57 YS: It’s not quite like a tennis match because we are not actually playing against each other.
13:01 JM: Little do you know, my friend!
13:05 VG: I think chamber music is the closest we get to jam session in classical music, in terms of intimacy, in terms of spontaneity of what happens in the moment. Many things onstage happen in a most spontaneous way, very differently from what we’ve done in rehearsals, but thanks to the rehearsal process, we have ground to lean on. You should’ve heard these two gentleman coming out of yesterday after the Shostakovich sonata, discussing what they’ve done completely different in the third movement that they’ve never done in rehearsal. It’s a natural process but you don’t announce, “Watch out something’s coming up!”. You don’t do that.
14:13 YS: It depends on what’s coming!
14:20 ZP: As in Mozart, the idea of dialogue between two instruments is relevant here in the sonata for cello and piano, and the conversation dives deeper into language and communication.
14:30 JM: Everybody says music is a language and then you speak it, and it’s actually true. You do communicate on a very fine level. But, in a way, words are so inadequate to describe music.
14:45 VG: There is communication with, of course, eye sight.
14:49 YS: Yes, but I wouldn’t overstate visual communication. I think a lot goes on at a different level. I think there’s so much communication that’s going on beyond the visual. Communication with sound, anticipation, and musicianship. I think if you play together a little bit, you know what the other person is most likely to do. So you kind of take risks sometimes, or predict things, or anticipate things. It’s really hard to describe and put into words.
15:13 JM: In a way, it is almost more fitting to use another art form to describe music. Let’s say, use dance to transform music into physical expression, rather than someone explaining to you “This is happening here, and this is happening here, and this is happening here.” And so this process of visual communication is maybe an inadequate communication in musical moments. I could not describe what actually happens, and that’s a good thing.
15:48 VG: You know what Steven Martin said about music, he said “Talking about music is about the same thing as dancing about architecture.” Anytime a word is spoken, it limits the energy and limits the meaning.
16:03 JM: Yes, and that’s also what’s so frustrating. I know we all had this moment in school - “What did the artist want to say?” You know, “Tell us now!” Well, what the artist wanted to say is on the wall or is in that piece of music. So much gets lost in translation, I think.
16:32 ZP: Sounds and meaning come from the composer’s mind, which are then notated on paper and it is the performer who translates that to the audience.
16:53 JM: The relationship between composer and instrumentalist, or musician in general, is a peculiar one in Russia. We pointed out that, in the Russian context, the composer is always bowing towards the instrumentalist. There’s this famous story by Alfred Schnittke where the famous cellist, Heinrich Schiff, came to Schnittke and said “There are two versions of a particular spot in your Cello Sonata, which is the right one?” Schnittke paused for a moment and said, “What does Natalia Gutman do?” So, he didn’t value his own opinion, but actually he valued the opinion of the person who premiered the work even more. It’s really very much, how can we get the original text of the composer. Can we see the handwriting? Why do you think there is this difference?
17:45 YS: Maybe because they are dead?
17:53 JM: No! Schnittke was still alive at the time!
17:57 VG: But barely!
17:58 JM: Barely, yes. Well that’s pretty much all his life.
18:02 YS: But I mean there seems to be more respect for dead composers. Schnittke was looking for the opinion of Natalia Gutman and if Schnittke was not alive, then Natalia Gurtman would be having sleepless nights about how to play this passage - how Schnittke would have wanted it.
18:28 ZP: Another composer who valued the approval of the performer is Tchaikovsky. In 1882, Serge Teneyev premiered the Piano Trio in A minor and reassured him, “I can’t remember ever having experienced more pleasure when learning a new piece. Most musicians are delighted with the Trio, and it has also pleased the public.”
18:46 YS: Tchaikovsky was always slightly intimidated by pianists, it seems. He would always feel that he has to play for them and that they would change everything or make him change everything. The tradition seems to have changed a little bit over the years. I mean when he played the first piano concerto to the great Rubenstein, he made him feel terrible about it and he said, “Yes, this will never be a good piece unless you make these changes.” Then he made the changes.
19:17 ZP: Tchaikovsky wrote to the publisher about his Piano Trio “before you engrave it, it is absolutely essential that a stringed instrument expert attend to my bow markings and correct what is unsuitable.”
19:26 YS: So actually, I quite like the original version of how Tchaikovsky intended it. It’s less bombastic. He, himself, I don’t think was strong, pianistically, so maybe that explains why he felt - I mean his writing is more orchestral, I have to say.
20:01 JM: Vadim, you have a very personal relationship to the violin concerto, not only because you play it all the time, but also from the instrument that you usually play.
20:12 VG: I usually play an instrument that actually saw Tchaikovsky and that Tchaikovsky heard regularly in his life. It was played by Leopold Auer and he is to blame for what we know, today, as the Russian violin school. He taught Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, and Mischa Elman, etc. So, for Mr. Auer, Tchaikovsky writes his violin concerto. Mr. Auer plays it through and returns the score saying “Thank you, but no thank you.” Claiming that it’s un-violinistic, therefore, unplayable. Basically exactly what Mr. Rubenstein told him. Knowing what kind of person Tchaikovsky was - extremely sensitive, extremely gentle man. It’s fascinating to think that he went through his life being hurt like this each and every time. To be told that these pieces are worth nothing and then history proves that these are two works that we can’t imagine our life without. This is really extraordinary. I don’t think that there is another example like this.
21:26 ZP: From Leopold Auer and Tchaikovsky, to Carnegie Hall, Juilliard, the Curtis Institute of Music, and many more places, Vadim’s violin has now been heard across the vast landscape of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. With so many performances across space and time, some might wonder how being immersed in an extraordinary environment changes the way music is interpreted and performed.
21:48 VG: I don’t think place influences us as far as making decisions as to how we play, but it certainly inspires us. Each and every place inspires us in very different ways. I don’t think I have to tell you how inspirational this is. It would be absurd to even start talking about it - just look out the window. I don’t think I can say that we will play the second bar of Tchaikovsky Trio now much softer than before. But, certainly what happens on an emotional level is, first of all, you can’t calculate or predict. But something does happen. That I can promise.
22:28 YS: More thunder!
22:29 VG: More thunder, yes! Yevegeny is absolutely taken with thunder, just look at his picture.
22:43 JM: Being surrounded by art and by space frees your mind and cleanses you from the “unnecessary necessities of life”, shall we say, that haunt us. That’s why it’s so great to be here.
23:00 VG: There are definitely not many places like this. Actually, there are very few and far between.
23:02 YS: Some start out like this, but become very crowded.
23:04 VG: That’s very true.
23:07 JM: So keep it a secret!
23:08 YS: Yes, don’t tell anyone!
23:15 ZP: Tippet Rise Art Center will reopen to the public for sculpture tours tomorrow, July 5, one week before the start of our summer music series. During this fourth season, the art center will be open from 9am - 4pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. We hope that you will plan your visit and thank you for listening to the Tippet Rise podcast.