Mu­sic that Changed Me

Is­raeli con­duc­tor Ilan Volkov

BBC Music Magazine - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view by Jeremy Pound

Mu­sic was all around me when I was young. My fa­ther was pi­anist with the Is­rael Pi­ano Trio, and I used to go to his con­certs and hear him teach. Above all I re­mem­ber him play­ing the Brahms and Schu­bert Trios, and it is still very emo­tional for me to hear them. I my­self started play­ing the vi­olin at around six years old and the pi­ano later. I don’t think I was that tal­ented as a player, but I was very in­ter­ested in mu­sic from an early age, and started read­ing scores while lis­ten­ing when I was very young. The first thing I lis­tened to a lot was a six-lp STRAVIN­SKY set called Nine Mas­ter­pieces Con­ducted by the Com­poser, which has the likes of The Rite of Spring and The Fire­bird plus later works such as Sym­phony of Psalms. You could delve into it for hours. Stravin­sky wasn’t an amaz­ing con­duc­tor tech­ni­cally, but this set be­gan a bit of an ob­ses­sion with his work.

When I was 13, we lived in Mu­nich for a year. Sergiu Celi­bidache was con­duct­ing the Mu­nich Phil­har­monic, so I used to go to a lot of con­certs, plus there was the Bi­en­nale of New Mu­sic. My in­ter­est in new mu­sic re­ally started, though, when I went to the Dart­ing­ton Sum­mer School, where my fa­ther was teach­ing. I re­mem­ber go­ing with him to a Vinko Globokar con­cert, a Michael Fin­nissy con­cert and these very strange latenight con­certs, and feel­ing the ex­cite­ment of see­ing some­thing that I didn’t re­ally know or un­der­stand. My fa­ther was cu­ri­ous about mu­sic, and that cu­rios­ity was pos­si­bly the most im­por­tant thing he gave to me.

In the early 1990s, when I was about 15 or 16, a wave of early mu­sic record­ings came out. John Eliot Gar­diner’s record­ing of MONTEVERDI’S L’or­feo has a crazy line-up of singers – Anne Sofie von Ot­ter, Wil­lard White and so on – but for me it was not so much the singing that was amaz­ing as mo­ments such as the very open­ing and var­i­ous pow­er­ful scenes. They seemed so mod­ern in a way – the use of voices and in­stru­ments was so orig­i­nal. Later, I met Gar­diner and he in­vited me to sit in on his re­hearsals.

At about the same time, I also dis­cov­ered MUSORGKY’S songs, per­formed by Boris Christoff. He had this re­mark­able voice – it was scary stuff! It was in­cred­i­ble hear­ing this Rus­sian text and Mu­sorgsky’s way of writ­ing, which was very spe­cific, very sim­ple and leans a lot to­wards folk mu­sic. Orig­i­nal and unique, the songs are per­fect in so many ways.

When I came to London to study in the mid-1990s, PIERRE BOULEZ was do­ing a big Mes­si­aen fes­ti­val with the LSO. I’d heard a num­ber of his per­for­mances on disc, but to come and see him con­duct 20th-cen­tury mu­sic live was so cru­cial to me, and I was also lucky to get the chance to have a mas­ter­class with him – I learnt a lot about go­ing into de­tail and learn­ing to un­der­stand and an­a­lyse a whole piece. At the time, I bought a fivecd com­pi­la­tion of his per­for­mances, with pieces on it by com­posers in­clud­ing Schoen­berg, Be­rio, Carter and Kurtág.

It was won­der­ful to work with com­poser FRANÇOIS-BERNARD MÂCHE when I did my first con­cert with the Ensem­ble Con­tem­po­rain last year. He has been do­ing elec­tronic and acous­tic mu­sic since the 1950s, but has also al­ways been do­ing his own thing record­ing an­i­mals and lan­guages around the world and us­ing it in his mu­sic – mak­ing field record­ings of this type is com­mon­place these days, but he and his con­tem­po­raries re­ally started it off. His Kas­san­dra is a piece from the 1970s for brass, wind, pi­ano and a tape part that is full of na­ture sounds and lan­guages which I’m look­ing for­ward to per­form­ing again at the Tec­ton­ics fes­ti­val.

mod­ern monteverdi: ‘His use of voices and in­stru­ments was so orig­i­nal’ BORN IN IS­RAEL in 1976, Ilan Volkov stud­ied at the Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic in London. Af­ter serv­ing as as­sis­tant con­duc­tor of the Bos­ton Sym­phony, he was ap­pointed prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor of the BBC Scot­tish Sym­phony Orches­tra from 2003-9. Also for­merly mu­sic direc­tor of the Ice­land Sym­phony Orches­tra, since 2012 he has cu­rated Tec­ton­ics fes­ti­vals in both Reyk­javík and Glas­gow to ex­plore con­tem­po­rary mu­sic. This year’s Tec­ton­ics Glas­gow fes­ti­val takes place from 6-7 May.

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