Today: March 13, 2007

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Main | Archive | Issue 2/2007

Spain Is Close to My Heart
Column: Russia - Spain

Interview given by the artistic director and chief conductor of the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, Vladimir Spivakov, to the magazine Diplomat.

Would you tell us about the Spanish period in your life? What was its role in your life and work?
The matter is that I had a friend, a wonderful and outstanding person-Duke Badajos, the husband of Dona Pilar, who is the sister of the King of Spain. He is a great lover of music and an excellent pianist himself. Those were hard times for our Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra. We had no premises of our own for rehearsals and were given them as an act of charity by various municipal offices. At one time we were allowed to settle in the club belonging to the Frunze Military Academy, and then the Novosti Press Agency took pity on us and let us rehearse in their cellar. The situation reached the point when the orchestra could have simply ceased to exist because some of musicians wanted to live and work elsewhere. A meeting was held at which my colleagues asked me to do something about it, for they didnt want to leave the most important thing in their life. Soon after that I was in Spain on a concert tour. Duke Badajos saw that I was dejected and asked why. I frankly told him about the real state of affairs, namely, that the orchestra might cease to exist due to the difficulties we faced at home. The Soviet Union had disintegrated and nobody bothered about the fate of the Moscow Virtuosi Orchestra. The Duke said that this must not be allowed, the Virtuosi, he said, were not just a Russian orchestra, they belonged to the entire world. And then he asked whether we would like to come to Spain and live and work there for several years. I was simply dumbfounded by this proposal and asked: Is that possible? To which he replied in French: Le mot de Roi (the word of a King).

Several months later all the musicians in our orchestra and the members of their families were issued entry visas. We arrived in Spain and began playing under the patronage of the Prince of Asturias, Felipe. We stayed there for three years and became very close to the Spanish audiences and people. We were helped a great deal by the children of the Spanish civil war. Many of them had lived in the Soviet Union at the time of those hostilities and spoke Russian quite well. They virtually showered care and attention on us. What did we have to do? Play music at the annual Asturian Prize awards ceremony which was hosted by Prince Felipe, and give several concerts with the choir of the Princedom of Asturias, which we did with great pleasure. I was greatly pleased when the royal family proposed organizing a concert in support of democracy in Russia at the time of the abortive coup in Moscow in August 1991. The concert was attended by Her Majesty Queen Sofia, Prince Felipe and many other distinguished guests. We were joined by the choir of Asturias. The church music we played seemed to appeal to Our Lord to save Russia from bloodshed. It all was very touching.

Soon several teachers from the Moscow Conservatoire and the Gnesin Institute of Music whom I recommended came to Spain. They helped raise the performance level in both Asturias and the whole of Spain by giving master-classes there. For example, my pupil Yuri Nasushkin organized an orchestra of young musicians which gave public concerts with invariable success.

After staying in Spain for three years, its music became quite close to my heart. Now I play de Falla's and Albenizs works with great understanding and feeling. Having lived in the country for several years I feel the heartbeat of its people and their music and the culture became near and dear to me.

Would it be possible, in your view, to speak of the likeness of Russians and Spaniards, taking into account their piety, musicality and love for literature?
Yes, of course. Spaniards are very religious. In our country, too, despite the destruction of the churches and icons in Soviet times, Russians remained religious deep down, and it was impossible to root this out.

The many things common to our and the Spanish soul notwithstanding, I have returned to Russia, and a good half of our orchestra musicians have also done so. Its difficult for a tree planted in one soil to grow and bloom on another. As a token of gratitude for the help rendered us by the Spanish people during our hard times I preside over the Pablo Sarasate competition held in Spain every two years. So far there have been eight such competitions in the past sixteen years. I should say that the fruits of the Russian musicians and music teachers work in Spain are quite conspicuous. Spanish musicians have noticeably raised their artistic and technical level and many of them have won prestigious awards.
What are your personal plans in connection with Spain?
In late April-early May there will be guest performances of the Moscow Virtuosi Orchestra. One such concert will be held at the famous Auditorium in Madrid. Of course, I anticipate meeting with my old friends. As I am talking to you now, episodes in my Spanish life flash before me. In 2003, I was greatly flattered to receive the personal invitation of Prince Felipe to his wedding. When the guests were leaving the gala reception in the royal palace, they said: Felicidades, Su Altesa (Congratulations, Your Highness). I, too, said that and was going to leave, but Prince Felipe stopped me, and the long line of the guests behind me, and said to his young wife: Dear Letizia, Id like to introduce to you the outstanding Russian musician Vladimir Spivakov, who has done a great deal of good work for Spain and Asturias. I am deeply grateful to him. Some time later I received a letter from Prince Felipe. It was not printed, as usually is the case, but hand-written and signed and addressed to me and my wife. Enclosed was a photo of his wedding ceremony.

We remain friends and meet from time to time. Spain is a country close to my heart.

Photo from the album Vladimir Spivakov.


-, 2006